Sunday, December 31, 2006

My Goals for 2007

My niece in Austin got a new laptop and we have been emailing daily since she got it set up. Now, I'm lousy at communicating with friends and loved ones (just ask Yam--hi Yam!), so it's been interesting to see how long we can keep it up before resorting to the banalities of "I'm fine, how are you?" and "Nothing much to report here." So far it's been going well so I'm hopeful we can continue it.

One of the things we've been talking about is her New Year's goal from last year. Every year she starts a new notebook (in addition to her journal writing which she has done every day for the past six years) and sets a goal to fill it up with a story by the end of the year. By the time I had left on Wednesday, she had 50 pages to write in less than a week. As of last night, I believe she had about 48 pages to go. But she is pretty determined, and she has achieved this goal every year, so I have confidence that she will make it this year as well, even if it means an all-day-all-night marathon of writing.

I can't even remember the last time I made any New Year's resolutions. For me, it was just one more way to set myself up for failure. Oh yes, I faced the New Year just like everbody else, flush with thoughts of all that I was going to accomplish. But I don't believe I ever kept one resolution until the year I resolved not to make any resolutions at all. And that's the way I've kept it for lo these many years.

But talking to Jill started me thinking. I like that she called it a goal instead of a resolution (I know, I know, it's just semantics, but it still seems less threatening and more achievable if it's just a tiny little goal and not a strong rigid resolution). I also liked that it was a specific goal, and therefore quantifiable. And over the years I have learned from watching her apply herself toward achieving that goal and succeed. I don't know what other goals she sets for herself, but I'm sure she approaches them in the same way.

And then I read Sheryl's post on her foodie resolutions over at Save Your Fork. I like that her goals are specific, and specifically food related. And it got me to thinking that maybe, after all these years, I'm ready to set a couple of goals for myself for the coming year. They're a little more general than Sheryl's and my niece's, but I felt the need to leave myself plenty of room to consider that even the smallest improvements mean that I have achieved my goals.

So here are my goals for 2007:
Stay in better touch with friends and loved ones.

Make regular posts to my blog, and continue to focus in on what it is I'm trying to achieve with it.

Try at least two new recipes a month, using at least one technique or ingredient I've never used before in each.

Keep my apartment at its current level of cleanliness at the least, and continue working on getting rid of my copious amounts of junk so I can clean it up even more.

I hope the New Year brings you health, happiness, prosperity, and the achievement of all of your goals, no matter how large or small.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

One Lucky Knitting Teacher

I don't usually teach any knitting classes in December, but my Wednesday night class wanted to keep going so we agreed to have a two-week session instead of the usual four weeks. We didn't get too much knitting done the last week, though, because we had a little Christmas party and there wasn't room for any projects on the table, what with all the good food everybody brought.

I wish I had brought my camera because it was quite a spread and a beautiful sight. We had chips and dips and guacamole and Corn Flakes wreaths (so much better than Rice Krispies treats, I've got to tell you), salami and cheese and toasted pita bread and crackers, a lovely platter chock-full of wonderful cookies, nuts and candies, and most excellent wine. I brought my graham cracker brownies. It was a great way to kick off the holidays.
And an even better way to kick off the holidays was with the lovely gift bag one of my students gave me. I really wasn't expecting anything so it was quite a surprise. I could hardly wait to get home and see what was inside.

Koeze Cream-Nut peanut butter comes from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and contains only Virginia peanuts and salt. I know there may be some purists out there who believe there shouldn't even be salt in there, but I don't agree. There are some things that need a little salt, and peanut butter is one of them, in my opinion. It's ground in small batches and just may be the best peanut butter I've ever tasted.

I've never seen green tea mints so I was quite pleased to get some, and I love pears so "Delicate Pear" flavored green tea mints were the perfect flavor. Three mints are equal to one cup of green tea, and they are caffeine and sugar free. The green tea, mint and pear flavors are so perfectly balanced I can taste each one of them without any one overpowering the others. And it's a Fair-Trade product to boot.

And the hand-made ribbon pasta is most intriguing. It's imported from Italy, the home of the Slow Food movement. Most of the label is in Italian, but it looks like it's a regional specialty of Puglia called Lingua di Suocera (mother-in-law's tongue). It's imported by the Crystal Food Import Coop, but I can't find it on their site. The colors come from beets, spinach, paprika, and curcuma, which Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages tells me is turmeric. I already have some idea of how I want to use it, but it will take some time because I need to do a little research before I can begin.

It was obvious to me that some time was taken in finding each one of these thoughtful gifts. I sure am one lucky knitting teacher!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Sugar High Friday #26 - Pomegranate Kisses

Let me start by saying that I'm not by nature a baker. I know how to bake, and I like to bake, and I have several long-time standards and I'm not afraid to try something new, but I've never been one to innovate in the kitchen when it comes to cookies, cakes, or pastries. The potential for disaster, both in taste and in chemical reactions that may result in explosions that leave bits and blobs of batter dripping from every conceivable surface of my kitchen, has long prevented me from mixing and matching in the cake and cookie department.

Which is one of the reasons I have not participated in any online baking events. I just don't usually have that urge to get creative with cookies.

But when I saw the truffle that Danielle of Habeas Brulee made for last month's Sugar High Friday, and that she was hosting this month's event, something started brewing inside me and I decided that it was time for me to overcome my fear of improvisational baking.

I originally thought I would do something with cacao nibs since I've been so obsessed with them lately, but nothing came to mind so I tabled that idea and decided to let it percolate around in my head for a while until I could come up with something.

Then with the holidays coming, I started thinking about what I wanted to bake. There are a couple of recipes that have become sort of traditional over the years. I wrote about Mexican Wine Cookies here. They don't look like much and their flavor is subtle, but when made with good ingredients they are incredibly addictive and impossible to resist.

So when I started thinking about making them this year, I was also trying to think of something creative I could do. I decided to add cocoa to the cookies and everything kind of took off from there.

The first challenge was finding the right amount of cocoa to substitute. This recipe has a high flour-to-butter ratio, so I figured 3-to-1 would be good. The original recipe calls for sweet sherry, which has a nutty flavor that permeates the cookies and is what makes them so addictive, in my opinion, but I didn't think that flavor would go as well with the cocoa. I was going to use Kahlua, but my attention was caught by Godiva Liqueur at the store so I went with that instead.

After I made up the recipe, I divided the dough so I could try different things with it. The first time, I just dotted them with a little decorative sugar and baked them. They were ok (and by that I mean nothing exploded in the oven), but a little bland. There wasn't enough body to the liqueur to add anything to the flavor. They needed something more.

My next experiment involved crushing some Mexican chocolate, brushing the tops of the cookies with liqueur and then spreading the Mexican chocolate on that before baking. It was an improvement, but again too subtle. (Although I think it would work really well if the chocolate was mixed into the dough instead of just being put on top, and plan to try that.)

And then I remembered the Pomegranate Cordials I had seen at Treasure Island down the street. They looked really good and I really wanted to try them but I was trying not to eat too many sweets and I was already being forced to eat the results of my baking experiments so I decided to pass them up. So maybe it was because I really really wanted to eat them that I came up with the idea of putting them on the cookies. Whatever the reason, it was a good one.
I wasn't sure if the cordials would hold their shape in the heat or if they would just melt over them and burn on the bottom of my oven, so I rolled out one little cookie, pressed in a cordial, and baked it all by its lonesome little self. Imagine my pleasure when it held its shape and stayed on top of the cookie. So I baked up the rest.

How were they? I thought they were pretty good, but I wasn't sure if anybody else would think they were. I was going to see Lynda right before I left for Austin for the holidays so I took some to her and she was nice enough to try one right away, and she said it was good. I also brought some to my knitting student Nicole to try and she liked it, so I was feeling pretty good about how they turned out.

I took the rest of them to Austin with me so I could test them on my harshest critics - my family. They said they liked them, and the rest of the cookies disappeared quickly enough, so I guess they were a hit.

I plan to play with this recipe some more. And thanks to Danielle and this event, I think I've finally caught the baking bug.
Pomegranate Kisses

1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 tsp salt
3-1/3 cups sifted flour
2/3 cup cocoa
1/4 cup Godiva liqueur
Pomegranate Cordials

Cream butter and sugar. Add egg and beat until light and fluffy. Blend in salt and 2 cups flour. Stir in liqueur. Add remaining flour and the cocoa; mix well.

Chill dough at least one hour. Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and place on cookie sheet. Grease the bottom of a 3-inch glass and dip it in decorator sugar, then flatten each cookie. Gently press a cordial into the center of each one.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-11 minutes.

Makes about 8 dozen cookies.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Nigerian Kidney Bean Stew

There's a new version of Blogger out. Expect lots of swearing after I've upgraded.
Kidney beans are iffy for me. They have a little bit of an aftertaste to me that is similar to black-eyed peas, and it's that funky aftertaste that makes it impossible for me to eat black-eyed peas.

And please don't say "Oh, but you've never tried my black-eyed peas." I can't tell you how many times I've had people say that. I probably haven't tried your black-eyed peas, but I can guarantee that I won't like them. I haven't run across anything that can hide that funkiness. Anything. Ok?

I can eat kidney beans, but not usually by themselves. But they're really good for you, at least according to the World's Healthiest Foods, so I want to eat more of them. I've always liked to put them in my chicken and vegetable soups, and (purists might want to turn away for a moment) in my chili, because that odd little aftertaste isn't so obvious when there are fifty other ingredients in the bowl vying for my tongue's attention.

So when I first came across this recipe for Nigerian Kidney Bean Stew in Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian, I wasn't so sure it was something I wanted to try. There's a recipe I've had for years called African Chicken (note to self: Must make that again!) that uses tomato sauce and peanut butter so I knew I liked that combination, but I wasn't sure how I would like the kidney beans as the star of the show. But I had already made a couple of recipes from the book with much success, so I decided it was worth the risk.

And it was. The peanut butter and tomato sauce base is the perfect vehicle for highlighting what is tasty about kidney beans, and that strange aftertaste I dislike so much disappears in this dish. It's quite tasty with brown rice, but it's also really good with whole wheat couscous. And if you don't have any couscous or brown rice ready, it's awfully good all by itself.
Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Soups and Stews

Nigerian Kidney Bean Stew with Peanut Sauce

Serves 4 to 6

1-1/2 cup dried red kidney or pinto beans
salt to taste
2 Tbsp peanut or canola oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves finely chopped garlic
1/2 large green pepper, chopped into small dice
1 tsp ground cumin
1 cup canned tomato sauce
1/4 tsp cayenne
1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
1-1/2 Tbsp smooth peanut butter

Soak and cook beans; do not drain. Add salt, stir to mix, and leave in cooking liquid.

Put the oil in a wide, medium pot and set over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, and pepper. Stir and fry just until onion has turned translucent, turning heat down as needed. Add cumin and stir once. Put in the tomato sauce, cayenne, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup water. Stir and bring to simmer. Turn heat to low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put peanut butter in a small bowl. Slowly add about 6 tablespoons of cooking liquid from beans, mixing continuously. Stir this mixture back into the pot of beans.

When tomato mixture has finished cooking, pour into the pot of beans. Stir and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn heat down to low, and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve hot.

from Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey (Clarkson Potter, 1999)

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Couscous with Sweet Potatoes and Zucchini

When I fixate on something I tend to fixate. Right now it's sweet potatoes. Ever since I roasted them in the oven for Thanksgiving I can't get over how much richer they taste than when they're zapped in the microwave.

And as good as they are mashed with orange juice, dried cranberries and brandy, I've been trying to think of some other uses for them.

I don't know how you feel about the FoodTV Network. Me, I have this love-hate thing going with it. There are some good shows (although most of the really good shows where the hosts actually seemed to know what they were doing and would actually cook and from whom I learned something are gone), but mostly it's all fluff and infomercials (like "The Secret History of . . .," "Unwrapped," and most of the specials) that promote unhealthy, processed, packaged foods. It's usually on in the background when I'm home, but I don't pay much attention to it and will run to change the channel when Bobby Flay or that obnoxious guy who hosts the Top Five show or that other obnoxious guy who hosts "The Secret Life of . . ." come on. I can't believe I'd ever see the day that I'd say I miss Gordon Elliott (at least in comparison to those three), but there you have it.

And every once in a while I'll get an idea from someone, which happened Thanksgiving weekend. The theme for the day was how to use up all the Thanksgiving leftovers, and Michael Chiarelli made a pasta dish with sweet potatoes. Which got me thinking . . .

. . . and led to Whole Wheat Couscous with Sweet Potatoes and Zucchini. This is mighty tasty, and doesn't take too long to prepare, assuming you already have the roasted sweet potatoes. And now that I've discovered how much better they are oven-roasted, I plan to always have some handy.

You can pretty much cook up the sweet potatoes and zucchini in the time it takes to make the couscous, which always makes life easier. Frozen zucchini makes this a truly convenient dish.

Home Cookin Chapter: Beans and Vegetables

Couscous with Sweet Potatoes and Zucchini

1 large sweet potato, roasted, peeled and cut into 1/2" cubes
1/2 16-oz. bag frozen sliced zucchini
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, separated (1-1/2 cups for couscous and 1/2 cup for the sweet potatoes and zucchini)
1 cup whole wheat couscous
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Salt and pepper to taste

Prepare couscous according to package directions, using stock instead of water.

At the same time, heat oil in medium sized skillet. Add onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add spices and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Add 1/2 cup stock, sweet potatoes, and zucchini. Add salt and pepper. Simmer until heated through, mashing up a few of the sweet potato cubes to thicken the sauce.

Serve over couscous.

Servings: 4

Exported from Home Cookin 5.4 (

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Cranberry-Mashed Sweet Potatoes

My turkey may have been a little dry and overcooked, but the sweet potatoes were a rousing success. After making a test batch Thursday for my own little celebration, I made them again yesterday evening for Beth's Thanksgiving dinner. Everyone seemed to like them, except for the kids. But I don't know many kids who like sweet potatoes in any form, so I wasn't too disturbed by that.

I put aleppo peppers in my test version but wasn't sure about bringing something spicy to Beth's so I left them out of yesterday's batch. They were really good both ways.

I used dried cranberries (an impulse buy on Wednesday night when I stopped at Treasure Island to make sure I had everything I needed for Thursday) and orange juice to flavor the potatoes. A little cumin cuts the sweetness and gives the dish a subtle smoky flavor.

In the past I would just cook the sweet potatoes in the microwave before mashing them up with a little orange juice, salt and pepper. But roasting them really intensifies their deep rich flavor and gives them a soft, velvety texture that the microwave just can't duplicate. Baking them after they're mashed smoothes out their texture even more and allows all of the flavors to combine and fully develop.

Toasted walnuts and cacao nibs are the perfect garnish to make this a festive holiday dish.
Cranberry-Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Serves 8
4-5 medium-sized Red Garnet or Jewel sweet potatoes
2 honey tangerines
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 tsp dried aleppo or any other pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, chopped, for garnish
1/4 cup toasted caco nibs, crushed, for garnish
1 Tbsp chopped dried cranberries, for garnish
Salt and pepper to taste

Scrub the sweet potatoes and place in a 350-degree oven. Cook until tender, 1-1/2 to 2 hours.

At least an hour before the potatoes are done, zest the tangerines then juice them. Combine the zest and the juice in a bowl with the brandy, the chili peppers and the dried cranberries. Leave at room temperature so the cranberries can rehydrate in the liquids.

When the potatoes are done, let them cool until they can be handled. Peel them and place them in a large bowl. Add the olive oil and, with a potato masher or a fork, mash the oil and potatoes together. Add the orange juice mixture, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Mix everything well and transfer it to an oven-proof 4-quart casserole dish. Bake 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Sprinkle the toasted walnuts, chopped cranberries, and cacao nibs on top and serve warm, or add them to each individual portion before serving.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The Day after Thanksgiving

It was absolutely gorgeous today here in Chicago. The sun was shining and it was in the upper 50s. In other words, the perfect day to go outside and walk off some of yesterday's Thanksgiving turkey.

I was running low on a couple of spices so I decided to trek over to my favorite spice shop. I didn't buy anything new, just replenishing. For someone who's accumulated as much spice as I have over the past couple of months, it's always a little surprise to me when I run out of something. But I ran out of their sweet curry powder and, while I'm totally getting off on making my own curry blends, their sweet curry blend is spectacular so I figure why play around when what's already there is outstanding?

For not getting anything new, I did end up buying a lot. I got the sweet curry powder, whole Croatian sage leaves, Spanish smoked sweet paprika, Saigon cassia cinnamon, cinnamon sticks, French thyme, cumin seeds, more cacao nibs, and some tomato powder for my friend Melinda. I love going to the spice store. My bag always smells so good on the way home.

From there I walked down North Avenue to the Container Store to get some more hanging sweater bags so I can do some more organizing. I got a good start cleaning up my apartment for my brother and nephew and this year I'm determined to keep it that way. I'm going to be throwing out a ton of stuff.

And now for the turkey. Doesn't it look beautiful?
Unfortunately, this isn't the final product. I took it out of the oven when the temperature was right, then let it sit for about half an hour before I started cutting it. In the middle of the process, which was getting pretty messy (19.65 lbs. of turkey is a LOT of turkey), I realized it wasn't completely cooked. So I had to put it back in for another half hour. It ended up a little dry and not so pretty so there aren't any more pictures.

Most of it is already in the freezer. I've got a beautiful carcass and some wings for soup, and plenty of cooked meat for which I'm already starting to come up with some leftover ideas.

I did create one dish that's a keeper. I made a test version of it yesterday, elaborating on a theme I started here. I'm going to make it again tomorrow to take to a friend's house for a weekend Thanksgiving dinner.

So even though it wasn't the best turkey, it wasn't bad for the first time. Next year I'll have a little more experience behind my belt, so it will be better.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Say Hello To My Little Friend

This little turkey came home from work with me last Friday and has been thawing in the refrigerator since then. It was still a little frozen when I opened it up this morning. Right now it's roasting in the oven for about 3-1/2 hours. Did I mention that it's a 19.65 lb. turkey? This sucker is huge!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone. I hope there's lots of good food and good company, whatever you're eating.

My friend Mary is in Hong Kong with our friend Yam right now. I can't remember if they'll be celebrating later today, or if they already celebrated yesterday. I can't wait to hear all about it.

I had a great time with my brother and my nephew last week. We managed to make it down to Milennium Park this year (last year it was so cold we turned back before we had walked a mile). I have to say, it was pretty cool. I managed to take some pictures from inside the bean.

That's the very top of it. My brother, nephew and I are smack in the middle of the line of 7 people at the bottom of the circle. I'm in the middle. Recognize me?

After admiring the inside, I went outside and became fascinated with the skyline as viewed from the bean.

Pretty cool, huh? Those are all from the north and west sides. The line of people at the bottom of the last picture are watching ice skaters in the plaza down below. They were taking a break (maybe to sweep the ice?) just then, so I didn't get any shots of the skaters. I was getting really annoyed at the cheesy music they were playing while we were walking around until I realized it was the skating music. It was just as annoying, but at least there was some context for it.

Oooh. I can already smell the turkey. Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

It's That Time of Year. . .

. . . and the days are flying by. As I write this post, my brother and nephew are somewhere on the Oklahoma Turnpike making their way to Chicago for a pre-Thanksgiving visit. The only bummer is that this year I won't be going back to Austin with them. Not with the new job. Maybe next year.

I've been busy getting ready for them so I havn't had much time to post since last week. But I have been cooking.

Like this tomato salad I made out of the leftover cucumber sauce I had made to go with the Tandoori-Style Chicken I made for Danielle's Spice is Right event. I had some left over and I wasn't sure what to do with it, and I had bought some tomatoes to go with a Turkey-Walnut Meat Loaf recipe review for Fitfare. I had too many tomatoes and was trying to decide what to do with the extras when I remembered the cucumber sauce. I just chopped up the tomato and added the sauce and it was delicious. It's worth making the cucumber sauce just for this purpose.

Speaking of Fitfare, this Friday will be my last post. I'm having enough trouble keeping up with my knitting, my new job, and this here blog so I've decided to take a break. But it looks like they're doing some interesting things, so you should continue to check them out every now and then.

I'm so excited. My brother and nephew will be here in less than 24 hours!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

TSIR 8: Wouldn't That Be Good with Cacao Nibs?

The minute I read Danielle's theme for this month's Spice Is Right event I knew what I wanted to do. I've been infatuated with cacao nibs ever since I brought them home with me, as you know from my posts here and here. I spend an embarrassing amount of time thinking about them and dreaming about with which foods they would go best. So far, I haven't thought of anything that wouldn't taste better with a little chocolate. Well, apparently liver wouldn't, but that's another story.

But there was one dish I knew they belonged with before I had ever tasted them. In fact, I mentioned it when I wrote about it. The warm toasty aroma of the Tandoori Masala I made for Barbara's Back to School Spice Is Right event was already suggesting chocolate and coffee to me.

So when Danielle said to use a spice with a dish from a cuisine that doesn't usually use that spice, my choice was obvious. Why not go ahead and add ground toasted cacao nibs to my Tandoori Masala and cook me up some chicken? So off I went to (surprise, surprise) and found a recipe for Tandoori style chicken. That recipe listed the spices separately, so I used it as more of a springboard than a recipe and used my lovely Tandoori Masala, to which I added a healthy dose of ground cacao nibs.

It made such a lovely, delicious chicken. The cacao nibs have a dark, warm toasty flavor that complements the tandoori spices to perfection. I am so glad Danielle chose this theme for this month's event. If she hadn't, it would have just been another great idea I had that I never tried. And that would have been a true shame because it's so good I will be making it again and again.

The chicken is the all natural chicken I've been getting at the Apple Market. I can't say enough good things about it. I've been shopping there often enough now that they recognize me, which is a nice feeling. And it was also really nice to be able to ask them to quarter the chicken for me, rather than my having to deal with it when I got it home.

Yogurt is an amazing tenderizer. This is the third time I've used it as a marinade for chicken, and each time the chicken has come out juicy and incredibly tender. Even though this bird was in the oven for a long time, it came out tender and flavorful and the white meat had not dried out at all, as it sometimes does when it's roasted for a long time. This easy dish comes out with a rich, complex, layered flavor that tastes like it took long hours and hard work to prepare.

Tandoori-Style Chicken with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

1 cup nonfat yogurt
1 Tbsp Tandoori Masala
1 Tbsp cacao nibs, toasted and ground
3-1/2 lb. chicken, quartered and skinned

1 cup nonfat yogurt
1 med cucumber, peeled, seeded, grated
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice
1 Tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/4 tsp salt

Thinly sliced limes
Fresh mint sprigs
Ground toated cacao nibs

The day before you plan to cook the chicken, mix the Tandoori Masala and cacao nibs into the yogurt. Combine chicken and marinade in a bowl or sealable plastic food-storage bag and refrigerate overnight.

To cook, heat oven to 500 deg. F. Place chicken in large roasting pan, brushing with the remaining marinade. Bake 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 and continue baking 45 minutes to an hour, or until juices run clear when chicken is pierced with fork.

While chicken is cooking, prepare Cucumber-Yogurt Sauce. In medium-size bowl, combine yogurt, cucumber, lime juice, mint and salt. Transfer sauce to serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Transfer chicken to serving platter. Cover with cucumber-yogurt sauce and garnish with mint sprigs, lime slices, and ground cacao nibs.

Adapted from recipe at

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Gemelli with Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Sauce

What could be better than a baking sheet full of roasted tomato goodness?

A baking sheet full of roasted tomato and baby eggplant goodness. I bought them both last week with the idea that I would cook up some kind of sauce with them but never got around to it. By this morning, the baby eggplants were pretty much now or never so I knew I had to do something with them today.

I was just going to throw them into the microwave and cook them there. But it's a cool enough day that I got it in my head that I might as well roast them in the oven. And since the oven was going to be on for the eggplant, I might as well throw the tomatoes in there as well, right? So I cut the eggplants in half, brushed some olive oil on them, and laid them cut-side down on a baking sheet. Then I halved the tomatoes and seeded them. After coating them with olive olive oil as well, I laid them cut-side down on another sheet. I put them in a 400-degree oven and left them there for 40 minutes. Within 15 miutes I started to smell them and it made my apartment all warm and roasty.

I made a sauce out of them with garlic and onions, seasoned with the greek oregano, thyme, salt and pepper. The ratio of tomato to eggplant was a little light, so I added some tomato powder.

What's tomato powder, you ask? Oh, just something the spice geek picked up quite a while ago at The Spice House. I had never seen anything like it, but it seemed like a good thing to have on hand. I put it in the fridge when I got it home and kind of forgot that I had it. But a couple of weeks ago I needed just a little tomato sauce and didn't have any (!) and I remembered it sitting in the door of the fridge. I took it out, put a four-to-one ratio with water into a little bowl, and lo and behold I had me some tomato sauce that smelled and tasted as if it had just been squeezed out of the tomato.

I can't recommend this stuff highly enough. A three-to-one ratio makes paste; four-to-one makes sauce. And it's just tomato powder. Nothing else. And it keeps forever. At least I know for a fact it lasts more than a year.

I served this over gemelli. The result? Fahbulous, dahling.

Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Sauce

2 Tbsp olive oil
4 large tomatoes, halved and seeded
4 baby eggplants, halved lengthwise
4-6 cloves garlic, lightly crushed and sliced
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp thyme
1 Tbsp tomato powder
4 Tbsp water
salt and pepper to taste

Use 1 tablespoon of the olive oil to brush the cut surfaces of the eggplant and tomatoes. Place them cut side down on separate baking sheets and bake in a 400-degree oven for 40 minutes. While they're cooling, prep the other ingredients. After they've cooled enough, scoop the insides out of the eggplant and skin the potatoes. Put them in separate bowls. Make tomato sauce by mixing the tomato powder and water in a small bowl.

Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet. Add the onion and garlic and saute until translucent. Add oregano, thyme, salt and pepper and cook for a minute or two longer. Add eggplant and break it up, cooking until it's thoroughly heated and the pan is sizzling again. Add the tomatoes and the tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Cook for another 15-20 minutes.

Serve over gemelli or other short whole what pasta.

Yesterday I went with some knitting friends to a Dulaan Project knit-in that Franklin Habit of Panopticon coordinated, along with some help from Bonne Marie and a couple of other folks. It was a lot of work and there were a lot of people there all knitting wonderful things for a good cause. I'm in one of those pictures, but I defy anyone other than Melinda, Louann or Mary to find me.

And now I have to go get started on my dish for the latest Spice is Right event.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Grown Up Tastes

I still remember the first time I ever saw a fresh date. It looked like a bug and, while sweet, was gooey and sticky (something I did not at all care for as a child) and had an extremely unpleasant texture and aftertaste that made me avoid them like the plague through the rest of my childhood. Just the thought of them was enough to make me shudder.

Later, when I was an adult, my sister made a chocolate pie that had a date mix in it. That tasted pretty good, and I decided maybe dates weren't all bad. I still avoided them in any other format, but at least there was something that had dates that I not only could eat, but actually enjoyed.

And then whoever made the date filling mix took it off the market and that was the end of that. While no longer grossed out at the thought of a date, I never actively pursued one.

But something has happened to my tastebuds over time. Tonight I stopped at the grocery store on my way home from work. I mainly needed some apples, but ended up throwing baby eggplants, tomatoes and onions into my cart with some vague idea of cooking up something sauce-y for couscous or pasta later in the week.

I don't know why my eye was caught by the container of fresh figs, or what prompted me to throw it into my basket, but there it was, and now here it is. I popped open the box when I got home and took one out. It was exactly the same as I remembered that first disgusting date I ate when I was little.

Except that this time they are delicious. No unpleasant texture. No unpleasant aftertaste. Just sweet sticky goodness to eat slowly and to savor.

And now I'm wondering what other childhood dislikes I should maybe think about revisiting.

Monday, October 30, 2006

More Fun with Cacao Nibs

So I had this sweet potato hanging around the kitchen and it kept lingering in the back of my mind that I needed to do something with it. And then today I noticed that it had sprouted and I could either go whole hog, stick toothpicks in it and immerse it in a glass of water for one of those useless sweet potato plants, or I could suck it up and go ahead and cook the thing.

So I washed it, poked it a couple of times with a fork, stuck it in a plastic bag, and threw it in the microwave for 6 minutes, then let it steam in the bag for another 5 minutes. Then I peeled it, threw it into a bowl with some salt and the juice of an orange, and mashed the sucker up.

While the potato was cooking, I toasted about a teaspoon of cacao nibs in the skillet. After they cooled, I mashed them in the mortar and pestle Yam left with me. After grating some fresh nutmeg on top of the potatoes, I sprinkled the ground nibs on top.

It was really good. After they're toasted, cacao nibs have the texture and consistency of roasted coffee beans, but the flavor is definitely chocolate. But the mind can play funny tricks, and because it looks like ground coffee, and has that roasted smell, it seems like there's just a hint of coffee in the flavor.

It takes ordinary mashed sweet potatoes and pretties them up quite nicely.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Masala Dal

Remember my trek with Jessica down to Devon Street to find Amchoor for Barbara's Spice is Right event at Tigers & Strawberries? Remember how I bought two 4-pound bags each of red and yellow lentils? Remember how I wondered what the hell I was thinking?

My friend Bob came through for me and graciously accepted half of each of them. In return, I promised to send him some recipes, which I have not yet done. Sorry, Bob! I'll get them to you soon. In the meantime, here's a great recipe for the yellow lentils.

While I have several recipes for the red lentils and I absolutely love them, I was at a little bit of a loss as to what to do with the yellow lentils. In all honesty, I wasn't absolutely sure they weren't just yellow split peas. They're bigger and rounder than most of the other varieties of lentils I've been using, so I wasn't sure how those recipes would translate. I decided to look around for recipes that actually called for yellow lentils.

And found a few at my new favorite recipe site In addition, they had an information page link, so I found out that most yellow lentils that are exported have a wax coating to help preserve them, so I knew to soak them in hot water for half an hour before using them, and to rinse off the soak water. I had recently read that you should use the soak water when cooking beans because a lot of the nutrients leach out in the soaking process, so if I hadn't read about the wax I probably would have used the soaking water.

So what to do with my yellow lentils? I found a yellow lentil soup recipe that sounds heavenly, with coconut and lime juice, served with a cilantro chutney that I will definitely have to make soon. But that was a little more ambitious than I was feeling, so I opted for Masala Dal, or Spicy Yellow Lentils. Thanks to all of my experimenting with spices and Indian recipes, I had pretty much everything I needed on hand, including my own toasted and blended garam masala. Everything tastes so much better with home-toasted home-ground spices.

While the lentils were soaking in hot water, I prepped the other ingredients. After the lentils had soaked, I drained and rinsed them, put them into a 3-quart saucepan, brought them to a boil, then simmered them until tender, about half an hour. I waited until the lentils were tender before I started the next part of the process, but that turned out not to be necessary. You can definitely start cooking everything else at the same time the lentils are cooking.

After heating my 10" skillet, I added 2 tablespoons of oil and let that get really hot. Then I added the black mustard seeds, and after they started crackling and popping I added the cumin and asafoetida and just gave it a quick stir or two before adding the onion.
I cooked the onion for about 7 minutes before adding the garlic and ginger. The ginger at the grocery store was withered and soft, so I just used ground ginger instead. After letting that cook for about 3 more minutes, I added the rest of the spices. It looked so pretty I decided to take a picture before adding the tomatoes. You can see how the spices have started to collect on the bottom of the pan. The liquid from the tomatoes will pick up all of that flavor. This hasn't been a good year for tomatoes, and we're pretty much done with the season anyway, so I just used a 14.5-oz. can of diced tomatoes with their juice.
Doesn't this look divine? I have to tell you it was smelling pretty divine at the time. I let it cook for a while, but it never really got to the consistency of paste, like the recipe said it should. I didn't worry too much about it, though, because I knew it would taste good and I've long given up the idea of trying to cook any cuisine, but especially Indian cuisine, authentically. I just try to stay as true as I can to the general idea.

This is as close to a paste as I got, then I couldn't wait any more. The lentils were starting to soak up all the water and I was afraid to let them sit any longer, so that was the determining factor for how long I let the paste cook down.
There was just the right blend of paste and lentils. Unlike the red lentils or split peas, these lentils hold their shape. I couldn't wait to serve some up and try it.

The results were spectacular. There are so many flavors going on in this dish that's it's hard to describe. The lentils have a nutty taste that is perfectly complemented by the sweetness of the onions, and all of the spices come together so there's no one overpowering flavor, just multiple layers of flavor that rose and fell in perfect harmony.

I will find and use more recipes using yellow lentils, but I'll be surprised if I find anything better than this one.
Home Cookin 4.9 Chapter: Beans and Vegetables

Spicy Yellow Lentils (Masala Dal)

Some of the masurements were given in millimeters and grams. I converted them as best I could.

1/2 lb. yellow lentils soaked for 30 minutes
3 cups water
4 Tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
Large pinch asaefetida
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp ginger, shredded
1 tsp garlic, shredded
1/4 lb. tomatoes chopped
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala powder
2 Tbsp coriander leaves, chopped

Bring lentils to a boil and simmer until very soft.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When they crackle add the cumin and asafoetida. Stir a few times and add the onion. Fry until golden then add the ginger and garlic. Add all the other ingredients and cook until a thick paste is formed.

Pour in the lentils, add salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.

Serve very hot. Goes with rice and combines the sweetness of onions with the nuttiness of the lentils

Servings: 4

(Slightly adapted from a recipe on

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Rigatoni with Sunchokes, Italian Peppers, and Crosnes

Goodness. A week has gone by and I never showed you what I did with the goodies I got at the Green Market last Saturday. Misreall commented that the crosnes might make a good peppery potato soup, and that did sound good, but I had already cooked them up.

I pretty much put everything into one dish. I roasted and peeled the peppers, then washed, sliced and blanched the sunchokes, and made Rigatoni with Sunchokes, Italian Peppers, and Crosnes.

I decided to use the absorption method for the pasta, which was a little iffy because it was the first time I used the method for an entire package of pasta, rather than just making it a serving at a time. I started out by sauteeing the shallots, adding the crosnes, and then the whole wheat pasta, continuing to cook for about two minutes. The pasta started to sizzle a little, and the smell of toasted wheat wafted up from the skillet. That's one of my favorite parts of cooking pasta this way - that warm toasty smell.

After the two minutes, I added about a cup of hot chicken stock. I covered the skillet, lowered the heat, and let the pasta cook for about ten minutes. I added a little more stock, the sunchokes and the peppers and let it cook for about ten minutes more, until the pasta was done.

And now for the fun part. You might be wondering what those little brown flecks on top of the finished dish are. Well, if you've been following along on my absorption pasta obsession from the beginning, you'll remember that I got the method from Clothilde at Chocolate & Zucchini. In her original recipe, she used toasted cacao nibs. I'd never heard of them before and did a little research. I hadn't seen them in any stores here so I figured I'd have to get them online if I wanted them.

But last Saturday at The Spice House, I saw them sitting in a jar on the shelf with the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. It's one of the impulse items that came home with the oregano that day.

They're a little lighter in the photo. Here, they look like pecan shell pieces. But they taste like pure chocolate. Like cinnamon, there's the slightest hint of sweetness, more by association than by presence. It's ideal for savory applications. It was delicious with the pasta. I will definitely be experimenting with this, and I think I may have found my spice for Danielle's spice event over at Habeas Brulee.

Gosh. I sure hope I write more posts before next week. As for the pasta, it was ok, but I think the absorption method works best with single portions. In order to cook the pasta evenly, it needed more liquid than could be absorbed by the end of the process. I will make this again, but I think I'll make the sauce separately and cook the pasta the traditional way.

Monday, October 23, 2006

To Market, To Market

I was fairly conservative on this Saturday's trip to the Green Market. There really wasn't anything specific I wanted to get, so I just wandered around looking at all of the autumn fare until a few things caught my eye.

There's a fine assortment of onions available now so I grabbed a few different kinds from one stall. As I was getting ready to leave my eye was caught by some baskets of little white root-looking things. The sign said "French Crones."

Never heard of them before. When I asked what they were, the guy at the market told me they were kind of like potatoes and could be eaten raw or sauteed. He offered to let me try one, so I did. It did taste a little like a raw potato, with that starchy crunch, but a much milder flavor. Nothing special, so I thanked him and walked away.

And didn't get more than a few feet when the afterbite hit--just the barest hint of radish. Hmmmm. That was definitely more interesting, and I had no idea whether or not I would ever see them again, so I bought some.

Here they are close up. I had a little trouble finding anything on them, but finally found this article at Mother Earth News. It turns out they're spelled crosnes (pronounced crones), hence the odd name. I had no idea what I was going to do with them, but I knew I had to try them.

And then, as I was almost free of this one area, I saw a tub of Jerusalem artichokes that looked fresh and pretty. While I'm more familiar with those, I've never bought any. The only time I ever had them was at a restaurant years ago, where I ordered them in a pasta dish. What the menu description hadn't made clear was that the pasta was made from the sunchokes, which was a little disappointing because I couldn't really taste anything different about the pasta and the sauce was nothing special, so I was never particularly tempted to try them again.

Until I saw these beauties at the market. So into my bag they went, along with some beautiful sweet Italian peppers I found at another stall.

After the green market I made my way down to The Spice House. Can you believe I ran out of oregano? All of these foreign, exotic spices I've been playing with and I run out of one of my most staple herbs. I had made some salsa, and the little I had left just wasn't cutting it, so I had to go get more.

Ths is the oregano. Isn't it pretty? It's Greek oregano, the kind that claws its way out from between the rocky cliffs and is sweet and pungent and shines in Mediterranean cuisine. Its flavor is not quite as strong as Mexican oregano, which is less sweet and holds up to the stronger spices used in Mexican cooking.

I 'm never sure which kind I should buy, because I cook with both styles and I want to maximize the experience for each. I usually alternate, buying Greek one time and Mexican the next.

But this time I just couldn't decide which one to get. So I got both. And I was surprised at the difference between the two. The Greek oregano is drier and finer; the Mexican has more stems and twigs in it. Both have that same delicious musky scent, but it's sweeter in the Greek, and sharper in the Mexican. I know I'm truly a food geek, but I don't care. I love my two oreganos!

And if those pictures weren't enough to give you an idea of the difference between them, here's a shot of the two together. Can you tell which is which?

And surprise, surprise--oregano isn't all I bought at The Spice House. More on that next time.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

What Can You Do with a Butternut Squash?

So I had this butternut squash I bought last week at the Green Market with no real idea about how I was going to prepare it. I had just made sweet potato-carrot soup so I didn't want to make more soup, and I didn't feel up to making a stew, so I went online to find some inspiration.

I know I've mentioned here before. There are some 281,476 recipes on that site from all over the world, and I've found some good ones. There are 288 recipes that use butternut squash. I found this one pretty quickly. The recipe is actually for Butternut Squash and Black Bean Tacos, but I thought it would be interesting enough just to make the butternut squash part of it.

I was a little worried about what it might do to my skillet. After the squash is tossed in a hot skillet with some oil, you add the spices and continue to cook it over high heat for about ten minutes. I was afraid the spices would either burn or stick to the bottom of the skillet, or both. But I kept my eye on it, and although it got a little dicey and the spices were definitely starting to smell roasty toasty and there was a black film starting to form on the bottom of the pan, it made it through the ten minutes.

Here's what the pan looked like when everything was done. The squash was slightly undercooked after the ten minutes, but the pan sizzled a good five minutes more after I turned off the heat, which finished cooking the squash. And after the pan cooled down it was quite easy to clean.

The end result was fantastic. The cinnamon and cumin, toasted just to the point of burning, fused together for a truly unique, smoky flavor that is hard to describe and impossible to resist.

Because of the cumin in this dish, I thought the yogurt and salsa would be a good garnish, but the salsa actually took away from the intense spicy flavor and was unnecessary. The yogurt by itself is all the garnish necessary - it actually helps make a sauce out of the spices.

You have to try this. Go out and find yourself a butternut squash and cook up some roasted toasted goodness. And do yourself another favor. Go get some Vietnamese Cassia cinnamon instead of that stuff they sell in the grocery store. It is the strongest, richest, and sweetest cinnamon around. You can find it at Penzey's or The Spice House.
Butternut Squash Saute

1 small Butternut squash
1 Tsbp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Cut the butternut squash in half crosswise at the narrowest point. Cut each half in half again lengthwise. Peel each section with a vegetable peeler or a flexible sharp knife. Use a teaspoon to scrape out the seeds and strings. Cut into 1/2" dice.

Heat large skillet over high heat. Add olive oil. When it smokes, add squash cubes and toss well. Sprinkle with salt, cinnamon, cumin and pepper. Saute over high heat, tossing frequently, until browned outside and tender but not mushy inside, about 10 minutes.

Taken from a recipe for Black Bean and Butternut Squash Tacos found on

Servings: 4

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ten Minute Black Beans (with another half-hour of enhancement)

Today is my sister's birthday. Happy Birthday Anne!

I don't believe I've ever shared my sister's wonderful Ten Minute Black Beans with Tomatoes and Cilantro recipe with you, and today seems like an appropriate time. It's quick, easy, and super delicious. The onions, while cooked, are still crunchy and the flavors all stay distinct, rather than blending together the way they do when you cook something for a longer time. It's excellent with brown rice.

Everyone I have shared this recipe with has loved it and makes it regularly. The only ingredient I don't always have on hand is cilantro, and I often do have that. It's a super handy dish to make when I need something for work lunches and don't have much time. I made these Thursday night when I got home from the knit shop, and even with the prep time it takes less than half an hour to make.

And now for the enhancement . . . I've mentioned that we're all on Weight Watchers at work, right? Generally, it's not changing my eating habits too much, except that I have to be a little more vigilant about how much oil I'm eating, and on the core plan I'm only allowed to have brown rice, whole wheat pasta or potatoes once a day (without having to count them). Well, I've had brown rice with the last couple of dishes I've made and I want to have some whole wheat pasta but I don't want to have to count it, and for that to happen I have to stop making brown rice.

But as good as these beans are, they really need something to go with them, and I was hard-pressed to think what could be better than, or even as good as, brown rice with beans.

And then I remembered polenta. Bingo! Black beans and polenta seem made for each other, and I knew that would work out beautifully. And this morning I made salsa with most of the rest of the serrano peppers Nicole gave me. I wanted to put that on the beans, but it seemed a little redundant, as the beans have pretty much the same ingredients in them as the salsa, so I needed something to keep them separate so the slightly different flavors of each would come through.

And I had just the thing:

Presenting Ten-Minute Black Beans on Polenta with Yogurt and Salsa. Sour cream would work just as well (and probably taste better), but this was mighty tasty and much healthier.

And only added about half an hour more to the process.
Ten Minute Black Beans with Tomatoes and Cilantro

1-1/2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups cooked black beans, or 2 14.5-oz. cans rinsed and drained
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, chopped
1 14-oz. can diced stewed tomatoes
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in small skillet or saucepan over moderately high heat. Add onions, garlic and pepper and saute, stirring, until onion is almost translucent but still firm, about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook, stirring frequently, 2 minutes more.

Add black beans and salt and stir to combine. Cover and cook until beans are heated through, approximately 2 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in the cilantro.

Serve over polenta topped with sour cream or yogurt and salsa.

Adapted from The Brilliant Bean Cookbook, by Sally and Martin Stone (Bantam Books, 1988)

Serves 4.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Swatch and Some Serranos

Isn't that a beautiful swatch? It's a little brighter and redder than in real life, and the grooves between the stitches are much more pronounced in closeup than in real life. What you're looking at is a swatch of Rowan Calmer. I'm excited about it because it's the beginning of a knit-along project I'm doing with Mary and Yam. We have to wait to get started, though, because Yam has to order the yarn and has some projects she needs to get off her needles first, then you'll hear all about it.

On the food front, I'm one lucky knitting teacher. My Wednesday night student brought me a bag full of beautiful home-grown serrano peppers. I see some salsa in my future, but in the meantime I used a couple of them in the Lentil Curry with Potatoes, Carrots, Spinach and Chickpeas I wrote about last February.

I was thinking of writing about it again this weekend for this month's Spice Is Right event, hosted by Danielle of Habeas Brulee while Barbara of Tigers & Strawberries and her family spend time with their new baby. The theme was to write about a spice mixture that was an old family favorite and to make something with it. Since the most exotic spice in our house growing up was cinnamon, I was having trouble thinking of anything.

Until I thought of this recipe when Nicole gave me the serrano peppers, and I remembered the first time I made it. It calls for a number of spices--cumin, paprika, turmeric, ground cardamom and ground coriander. I had a couple of unsuccessful attempts at Indian food under my belt already, so I was apprehensive about how this would turn out.

And it was delicious. The flavors all melded brilliantly, and the way all of the spices combined to make one intense flavor inspired me to keep cooking with more spice combinations, and eventually to toasting and grinding my own mixes.

So it seemed like that would be a good thing to write about. But I ran out of time. I also never got around to writing about my favorite chocolate shop. It's been a busy couple of weeks

But things should settle down soon, and I hope to be posting regularly again.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...