Monday, August 31, 2009

Yellow Vindaloo

Vindaloo started as a portugese phrase before becoming an Indian restaurant staple, but in English vindaloo usually means "pain". The deep red color of the dish has nothing to do with tomatoes or paprika. No sir, the red color is all chili peppers, the tiny varieties, eighteen of them for a pound and a half of meat. Yowza. Not stuff to feed your friends, at least, not if you like them.

I had one guest that was a chili head but the rest were somewhat heat sensitive, and one guest didn't like heat of any kind, so I decompiled my vindaloo recipe and made a vindaloo without chili. The dish turned out to be stoplight yellow from all the tumeric. I also streamlined the recipe for speed. The end result wasn't quite vindaloo, but it sure in hell wasn't bad either.

1.5 lbs chuck or other stew meat, cut in 1-2" cubes
2 tbsp black pepper
1/2 cup malt vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp red pepper flakes (OK, so there is some heat)
8 green cardamom pods (omit if you hate cardamom)
2 tsp ground clove
2 tbsp beef base or beef bullion

10 cloves garlic
2" ginger root
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander seed
1 tbsp tumeric
2 onions

2 tbsp ghee or butter
Fine dice potatoes (I used cubed potatoes from the freezer section, aka "southern style hash browns")
Handful cilantro

Handful mint
2 cups plain yogurt
1 tbsp salt

Basmati rice

Combine the marinade ingredients in a big zip lock bag and let sit for at least 24 hours. It can sit for longer if you like. Vindaloo is a dish designed around meat preserved in vinegar, so sour is OK.

Make a paste out of the "paste" ingredients using your food processor. Start with the wet stuff, then add the spices and pulse just to combine. Don't run the food processor on the spices too long, it will burn them.

Take the meat out of the marinade, pat dry and brown in your dutch oven or pressure cooker. Remove and reserve. Melt the butter in the cooking chamber, then fry the paste in the butter until very aromatic. You'll be sneezing cumin for a few days, that's okay. It's good.

Add the beef back to the paste, stir stir stir, then clamp the lid on the pressure cooker and set to high pressure for 45 minutes. If using a dutch oven, lid tightly and put in a 300 degree oven for anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, until the meat is spoon tender. When using the dutch oven you might want to add a little extra fluid, as the seal isn't near as good as it is with the pressure cooker. The reserved marinade would probably work well here.

Pulse the cilantro in the food processor until chopped.

When the meat is done, add the potatoes and cook until potatoes are done. Stir in the cilantro.

Make some raita. Seed the cucumber and chunk it so it fits in the food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Not pureed. We're not making tsatsiki here. Put in bowl. Put handful mint in food processor, pulse until chopped. Put in bowl. Fold in plain yogurt and salt, stir.

Serve the stew with raita and basmati rice. I like mint chutney and punjabi mixed pickle with it as well, but the mixed pickle is pretty strange. I might be the only one at the table that likes the stuff.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Bean burritos are one of my wife's staple foods, but it was way too hot for that stuff and I wanted something a bit heavier hitting on the nutrition side: a bit more fiber, more protein and healthy fats replacing the not-terribly-healthy fats in the cheddar. So was born the summerito, something like this:

Handful mint leaves, chopped
1 tbsp lime juice
1 avocado, chopped, or 1.5 cup guacamole
1 12 oz chicken breast, grilled and chopped
1 can black beans, drained.
4 low-carb tortillas

Combine first five ingredients, divide in four parts, and wrap each part tightly in the sixth ingredient. Some notes:

When chopping avocado, toss lightly in lime juice. This will prevent the sliced avocados from turning brown.

Grilled chicken breasts can be tricky. Set the grate so the fire will be about five inches from the meat. Start your fire and pile it on one side of the grill. Put chicken breasts on indirect heat (the side the fire isn't) with the thick ends toward the fire. Cover with a loose foil tent. Cook about five minutes, enough for the surface to turn white, depending on your breasts. Flip the breasts onto the hot side of the grill for direct heat. Grill for two minutes until you get grill marks, then flip and cook for another two minutes until an internal temperature of 160 degrees is reached.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Mac and Brocc

5 tbsp butter
5 tbsp flour
1 tbsp dry mustard
1 tsp paprika
.5 onion, chopped
1 egg, beaten
10 oz cheddar, shredded
2 cups milk
2 cups penne
3 cups broccoli florets
3 tbsp salt
More shredded cheddar

If someone you know has had a stressful day, or if you want to feel a bit better, there is no better medicine than macaroni and cheese. It's high time I wrote my recipe down, an amalgamation of Good Eats and Betty Crocker, with a dose of knowledge from America's Test Kitchen.

Elbow macaroni is preferable to penne, but I have a huge vat of penne from Sam's so that's what I use. Broccoli was added for token nutrient value and because it tastes good.

Melt the butter on low heat in a middlin sized pot. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until the flour takes on a blondish color. Add the mustard, paprika, and onion, and cook for a minute or so. There's our roux. Dribble in the milk, stirring, until you get a gloopy tasty mess. This is sort of bechamel, and it is the basis for our cheese sauce, but we have one little detail to take care of before we start adding the cheese.

Take your little bowl or cup in which you have beaten your egg. Tablespoon by tablespoon, add the hot sort-of-bechamel to the egg, stirring vigorously while you're doing this. Sometime after four or five tablespoons, the egg should start thickening. When it does so, you can add the egg mixture to the sort-of-bechamel. This is called tempering the egg, and it allows you to use egg as a thickener without ending up with scrambled or poached eggs, which is what you'd get if you added the egg straight up.

Add the 10 oz of shredded cheddar by the handful, incorporating each new addition before adding another. You should end up with a light orange gloop that is your cheese sauce. Take it off the heat.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Cook up the pasta as directed in a big pot, for penne, about ten minutes on a rolling boil. Drain, put back into the big pot. Fold the sauce into the pasta in the big pot. Rinse out the little saucepan you used to make the sort-of-bechamel, fill it with water, 3 tbsp salt, and the broccoli. Cook the broccoli until moderately tender and brilliant green. Drain and chop broccoli, add to pasta and sauce in the big pot. Stir stir stir. Put the whole mess into an ovenproof casserole, top with some more shredded cheese, and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Broiler Rediscovery

Most of us live in a world devoid of broilers. Even if the top element in your oven has a decent output, unless you work in a professional kitchen or live in a house far beyond your means you do not have a ventilation system that can clear out the voluminous and inevitable smoke that comes with cooking on direct heat. However, with a cool little trick from Cook's Illustrated you can turn it up to 11 with next to no smoke. For this example, I'll use a 1-1.25" thick strip steak, which I always seem to have on hand for some reason.

Take your steak and put a teaspoon of coarse salt on all surfaces of the meat. Put on a roasting rack. This calls forth protein-laden fluids to the surface of the meat, and it is these fluids that are responsible for browning. Let the salted steak sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Take a cookie sheet and line it with foil. Now, here's the trick: cover the bottom of the cookie sheet that the steak will be over with an even layer of coarse salt. Remove the salted meat from the rack and put the rack on the salt bed. Not the meat. We need to preheat the rack first.

Put the top oven rack in a position so that when the meat will be about 1.5 inches from the heat. You might need to put a casserole dish as a shim underneath the cookie sheet for this. Keep in mind- listen sharp here- that all ovens are different. One and a half inches is not so close in my crappy little oven, but if you have a nice gas broiler five inches is probably a much better distance.

Preheat the cooking apparatus under the hot broiler for five minutes. We're heating that rack before we put the meat on it because metal has networks of tiny little cracks that change their configuration as they heat. Put the meat on when the rack is hot and you can pull it off when the rack is hot. Put the meat on when the rack is cold, the rack heats up and grabs ahold of the meat.

Cookie sheet elevator shim, cookie sheet with its bed of salt, and roasting rack on top. Into the oven, heat it up. Keep the oven door open or the interior of the oven will quickly reach a temperature that will make the element turn off. You don't want that.

Now put your salted meat in its designated position on the rack above the salt bed. Cook for 4-5 minutes per side for a 1.25" steak, or until each side is crusty and dark brown. Note that the salt absorbs the fluid dropped by the meat so that it does not dry out and burn. Also note that the salt is not in contact with the meat so that your supper does not turn into a Mormon holy site.

Once crusty brown on all sides, your meat is cooked. Of course, there are those of us who don't particularly care how done it is, or if it is vocalizing and/or actively struggling. Cook it for longer if you like it medium-well or whatever. Or eat a hot dog. Cold. From the package. Crying.

This salt trick works with hamburgers, sausages, mushrooms, all sorts of broiler applications where the target wants a lot of intense dry heat and you are for some reason unable or unwilling to fire up the grill.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

15 Minute Risotto

Cuisinart should probably start sending me money given how often I pimp their pressure cooker and food processors. But here we go again, another pressure cooker recipe.

Risotto is a bit tricky given that I have never actually eaten it. My finished product looked like the picture in the cookbook, and the wife liked it, so as far as I'm concerned that makes it risotto. Note to self: go to high-end Italian restaurant to see what risotto is supposed to taste like.

Melt 2 tbslp butter in the bowl of your handy dandy pressure cooker. Well, yours might be handy dandy. Ours is bulky, black and ominous, like a steam-powered R2D2 commissioned by Albert Speer. It's great.

Chop half an onion, .5 carrot, and .5 stalk celery very fine. Food processors work well here. Saute in the butter until soft-ish. Add 1 clove garlic, chopped very fine. Saute until it starts aromatizing, but do not let anything turn brown.

Add 1 cup arborio rice to this mixture and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until the rice gets a toasty smell and the ends of the rice grains have turned translucent. Risotto scholars assure me this step is critical.

Add .25-.3 cup white wine and .5 tsp salt to this mixture and cook, stirring, until liquid is absorbed.

Add 2 cups chicken broth, lid, and set on high pressure for 6 minutes. Reserve .25 cups of broth.

While that's going on, shred 1 cup Parmesean or similar cheese. Broil or otherwise cook 2 cups mushrooms. I used criminis aka "baby bellas", they're good and cheap. I wished I had some asparagus, 1 cup steamed asparagus would have been nice. I used peas instead and rather wished I didn't. With risotto, always make sure the add-ins are pre-cooked, unless leafy or herbal in nature. Cook mushrooms in with the rice and you'll get rice gruel as the fungi will over-moisturize the risotto. So say the risotto scholars, anyway, and who am I to question them?

De-pressurize the cooker and set it to simmer. Stir. You can tell the risotto is about ready when the liquid pulls completely off the bottom of the pan. If it flows back in, it's still too liquid, and you have some more cooking/stirring to do. If it's too dry use the reserved broth to moisten it, cooking and stirring while you add it in drabs. You can tell it's too dry by tasting: the rice should be just al dente, surrounded with creamy fluid, but not crunchy raw rice. Anyway, if the rice is cooked and you can drag the spoon across the bottom of the pan and see the pan bottom, you're ready for the last additions.

Stir in the cooked veggies/fungus. Keep stirring. Add the cheese in batches, stirring until incorporated. Serve immediately and eat it all. You have to. Risotto does not keep well in the fridge. Take a nap.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Lemon Strawberry Whip

The tofu pie phenomenon continues. These things are awfully easy for how good they are. This one isn't as good as the chocolate version, but it's nice in its own way.

1 box lemon jello
1 cup hot water
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Zest from two lemons
10 oz (or so) soft tofu
8 oz non-dairy whipped topping
1 prepared graham cracker crust
1 cup sliced strawberries

Grate the zest from the lemons into the bowl of your food processor.

Juice out 2 tbsp of lemon juice from one of the zested lemons. One lemon should render about that much juice. Put the juice in a small bowl with the jello and the water. Refrigerate until it has the consistency of raw eggs.

Meanwhile, put the tofu in the food processor and whir until smooth. Add whipped topping, whir. Add thickened lemon jello mixture, whir until combined. Pour this stuff into prepared pie crust.

Place strawberry slices all over the lemon stuff. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Spanikopita and Tabouli

1 roll of phyllo (1/2 package)
1 stick (or more) butter
1 pound baby spinach
1/2 cup breadcrumbs or croutons, more or less
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp olive oil
8 oz feta
1/2 tsp nutmeg

If the phyllo is frozen, thaw it precisely according to the box directions (2 hours).

While that's going on, make your filling. Wilt the spinach in the olive oil in a big pan. Try and sizzle out as much moisture as you can. Put in a big mixing bowl with 8 oz diced feta, egg, nutmeg, and mix. Get a feel for the moisture in there. If it's too wet it will bust out of the phyllo during cooking. It should be about the same wetness as Thanksgiving stuffing. Adjust with the breadcrumbs/croutons.

Melt your butter and get your brush ready. Mop down a cookie sheet with some of the butter. Preheat the oven to 375. Now that the phyllo has thawed for two hours, unroll it.

Lay down a sheet of phyllo, brush with melted butter until transparent. Lay down another sheet of phyllo, brush with butter until transparent. Slice the prepared phyllo down the long axis with the point of a very sharp knife, so that you have two strips of prepared phyllo. Put a heaping tablespoon of filling at one end of one of the strips, then fold the corner over. Keep folding it over and over as if you were making a paper football or folding a flag. See crude illustration:
You should end up with a fat triangle. Lay it down on the cookie sheet. Repeat with the other strip.

Repeat the previous paragraph until you are out of either filling or phyllo. You'll probably run out of filling first, depending on how new you are to working with phyllo. If this is your first time working with phyllo you might run out of phyllo first. Remember, the thin sheets of dough become unworkably brittle after being exposed to the air for too long, so be sure to cover with a damp towel if you are pausing for any length of time.

Take your spanikopita-covered cookie sheet and put it in the 375 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, turning once, until golden brown. Serve immediately. It's nice with some tabouli salad. Tabouli too hard, you say? Horsepuckey, I say.

Add 6 tbsp boiling water to 3 tbsp fine bulgar and let sit for thirty minutes.. In your big food processor put 3 bunches flat-leaf parsley, 1 bunch mint leaves, 2 seeded ripe tomatoes, 1/2 red onion, juice of 1 lemon (strain out the seeds, you lazybones), 1 tsp salt, and a couple shakes of cayenne. Pulse a couple of times until everything is chopped. Add 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, pulse a few more times. Has it been thirty minutes since you started the bulgar? Great! Add the hydrated bulgar to the food processor and pulse just to combine. Spooge it out into a serving bowl and there you go. It's preferable to cover and chill this for a few hours to let the flavors combine, but I've gotten no complaints when it's served straight out of the food mongler.

Serves about 4.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

That's No Deer, that's a Soy Mousse!

Cooking for some dairy intolerant friends brings strange recipes to my kitchen, but this tofu-based mousse pie is pretty fricking amazing. My wife, self-described "dessert queen", named this one as a recipe that will soon be memorized. It's quite a bit better for you than mousse, as well, which is to be expected of something that doesn't have a cup or two of heavy cream in it.

1 (12-ounce) package semisweet chocolate chips
1 (12-ounce) package silken firm tofu
Splash vanilla extract
2 egg whites
Prepared chocolate cookie crust
Rasberries in syrup
Non-dairy whipped topping

Melt chocolate in microwave. Don't burn it! It's astonishingly easy to do. After about a minute and a half on medium power, open up the nuker to stir the chocolate every twenty seconds or so.

Blend tofu in food processor with vanilla until smooth. Blend melted chocolate into tofu mixture. Put back in bowl you melted the chocolate in, scrape sides of bowl to get the chocolate too stubborn to join the tofu in the food processor. Mustn't waste chocolate!

Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gently fold into the choco-tofu mixture. After it's folded in, pour into cookie crust. Refrigerate overnight.

Scoop out slices and top with raspberries and non-dairy topping.