Saturday, May 28, 2011

Mujadara and Electrified Musics

Luckily for us, Greensboro is big enough to support lots of different food venues, from produce markets to restaurants to little specialty shops, many of which I have not perused, and probably many more I am not even aware of. However, one day when I was buying some produce downtown, I stopped to talk to Jammin' George, a talkative fellow who will invite you into his shop next to the produce market for a sample of his foodwares, which are very good quality Middle-Eastern style goodies that he and his wife make. Jams and jellies they also makes, hence his name.

George is Lebanese, and the types of foods he sells reflect his heritage. His falafel is tasty, indeed, and I get serious hankerings for his dolmathes. But the best discovery I had at George's was the Mujadara, a traditional Arabic dish, I believe. Lentils, rice and caramelized onions. So good and so simple.

So if I want to make Mujadara, I have to start a few hours ahead of time to get the onions caramelizing properly. I usually caramelize two onions, and that's a sufficient amount for the dish. Start the onions in a little olive oil and salt on higher heat to get them cooking. Cover them and lower the heat. Stir occasionally. Stir more. Cook for a long time. Be patient. I added a little water last night after the onions had been cooking awhile to deglaze and to continue cooking. Next time I will use Chardonnay instead of water to accomplish this, but I never considered it until after the fact.

Now, these lentils are easy to make and are made a little differently every time. I had two tomatoes (one which was shaped like a heart) that needed to be used, so I chopped and added them to the pot of lentils, veg broth, a little water, red pepper flakes, and a blend from P's--Turkish seasoning. Also some powdered ginger. Usually I have a fresh root in the fridge, but the powdered will suffice. Get those cooking for about 20 minutes or so until the lentils are how you like them. In the meantime, I had a bulb of garlic roasting in the oven. I cut it in half and let it roast on the rack until it was browned. The cloves will squeeze right out when they are roasted, and it is delicious. Using this method, I have doubly increased my garlic intake.

The lentils are done now, and I added enough salt, but not too much as I am cutting back. The rice is done. I also added ground beef to the dish. I don't know if that's traditional, but it is flavorful. Add some cilantro at the end, and the Mujadara is ready. Kenny and I had been playin music, bullshittin, and drinkin beer, and now I'm ready for a little supper. A dish of frozen yogurts for dessert, and we'll call it a good day.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Crabmeat-and-Caramelized-Onion Ravioli

Last night, I was laying in bed reading a Jacques Pepin book, and I started thinking about ravioli. I wanted to have something different than the usual for dinner, and ravioli fits that bill, so after work I stopped at the HT for a few items, among them several pounds of tomatoes purchased for a bargain that I thought I would use to make a batch of sauce.

In the fridge I had a zucchini that needed to be eaten, so I chopped it up and threw it into a pot with some olive oil. I added a couple shallots, a few cloves of garlic, and another half of an onion that was also in the fridge. I rough chopped probably 12 tomatoes and threw them into the pot. Seasoned with salt, red pepper flakes, and a good dose of pasta sprinkle, I'll have sauce for pizza later in the week or for whatever I feel like making with sauce. After the sauce cooked awhile, I hit it with the immersion blender to smooth it out somewhat. It's still simmering right now.

In the meantime, I started my pasta dough: flour, eggs, salt, oil. Mixed that with a fork and kneaded it for a couple minutes. Put it under a towel, and it's resting like a baby. Pretty soon I'll go in and start rolling out my sheets. Dough should rest, and I should rest, so that's what we're doing now in addition to writing this here and listening to some Black Keys and whatever shuffles around and periodically kicking whichever dog is close enough for a boot.

Anyway, I had a few crab legs, so I cut the meat out with scissors and threw it into a skillet to warm with some caramelized onions that have been cooking since before I started this whole process. This is going to be my ravioli filling. Nice and simple, I think the sweetness of the crab will accompany the sweetness of the onions fairly well.

Oh, yeah. I just went and had a little taste. Pretty good. Kicked two dogs en route to the kitchen, and one on my return.

With a pin, I rolled the dough into sheets as thin as patience would permit, and I placed dollops of crab-onion mixture about an inch and a half apart. I brushed a little egg wash onto my pasta, and then I placed another sheet atop.

With my pizza wheel, I made raviolis; large, floppy, delicious raviolis. You must use patience and you must use care when making these things. Remove the air from the pocket. Make sure the raviolis seal, or they will fill with water, which you don't want. Homemade pasta tastes a little different than store-bought. It is toothsome and al dente, quite hearty really.

I boiled a pot of lightly salted water, and I threw those ravs into the water with a behind-the-back, over-the shoulder, no-looker. Plop. Let em cook until they're done, take em out, and lay them on a little bed o' sauce.

Top that with some freshly grated ParmReg and some fresh basil, and I am ready to eat. The sauce tastes good. I could simpy use that sauce as a vehicle for the cheese and eat it with spoon, but I have raviolis for that. The cheese also absorbs any extra liquid from the sauce.

Is it worth all of the effort to make homemade raviolis on a weeknight when they are devoured within minutes? Gustatorily and satisfactorily yes. Why not. You gotta eat.

And I didn't really kick any dogs today.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Punjabi Quesadillas

To whom shall I tell my sorrows, asked the man quietly to his horse as he rubbed the horse between his eyes, and they faced the expanse alone together. I don't know who to attribute that to; I must have read it somewhere sometime; but I made Punjabi Quesadillas for my dinner today, and they tasted good to me.

To begin, I threw a couple of frozen chicken breasts into a pot of water with salt and pepper and boiled them until they were not quite cooked. This is a good method for thawing frozen chicken.

In the meantime, I started the Punjab with three scallions, four cloves of garlic, and about a tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, an ingredient I am growing to appreciate more these days since it tastes good and it acts as a digestive aid, so I have heard. Into the pan it all went with a little olive oil.

As those items sauteed, I pulled the spices from the cupboard: paprika, turmeric, coriander, garam masala, and a spice we bought awhile back but have never used: the fragrant green cardamom. I opened the cardomom pod and crushed the seed with my fingers slightly before adding it to the melange. I gave a stir and allowed the spices to cook with the ginger, scallion and garlic for a few minutes.

I find that it is helpful and useful to me to have a bowl of tomato sauce in the fridge for whatever I might want to use it for throughout the week. For example, I made couscous a few days ago that I cooked in chicken broth and tomato sauce, and I found the addition of the sauce to work so well. So I added about a half cup of sauce as well as some of the water from the chicken , which I had diced and added to the spice mix, also. I added a little salt, and now it tastes good to me, spicy enough to nip the tongue a little, but not so spicy as to be overpowering.

To assemble the quesadillas, I spread my chicken mixture on a whole-grain tortilla and added a handful of cilantro before topping with about a half cup of shredded cheese, some kind of bag mixture that I found in the freezer. Topped with another tortilla, and into the oven she went until the cheese melted. I might have left it in the oven awhile longer to crisp the tortillas more, but no problem.

I had some plain yogurt and some mint in the fridge, so I thought I'd make a little sauce for the quesadillas, too. Into a bowl with the aforementioned, I added a little fresh lemon juice, a little fresh lime juice, salt, pepper, and a chopped tomato. I questioned the agreement of the cilantro in the quesas and mint in the sauce, but everything was complementary, to be certain.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Stash the Gumbo

When we went to New Orleans, I ate some gumbo, as a person should when they are in New Orleans. Though the gumbo I ate was not from The Gumbo Shop, when I saw this autographed cookbook at Faulkner House from that fine, little restaurant, I bought it so I could try and replicate a few of the traditional dishes they serve. Up first? Gumbo, of course.

First I prepped my veg, chop chop. The recipe called for the Trinity: onions, peppers, and celery, and that went into the pot, but we also have 10 pounds of carrots in the fridge, so I decided to chop a few and add that to the dish, along with a handful of garlic. So far so good. But before I sauteed the veg, I started my roux, which is really what makes gumbo what it is by adding a deepness of flavor.

Now, the roux recipe stated I should use half a cup of oil, and half a cup of flour, and that is exactly what I used, though some may say that much oil creates a greasy gumbo. I prefer to think of it as silky.

Into the hot oil went my spelt flour, and then the whisking began. As the water cooks away from the flour, the roux begins smelling like popcorn. This is when the real darkening of the roux begins. I whisked and cooked that roux until it was as dark as chocolate, and then I added all of the chopped veggers and a good measure of Pasta Sprinkle, which goes with just about everything. I allowed the veg to stick to the pot a little as the recipe states before scraping it up several times, and when I tasted it, it was good. A little salt, yes.

Earlier in the day, I bought a few links of spicy chicken sausage, and I substituted that for the andouille. No problem. I also added a bunch of chicken breast that I baked earlier to the pot after the veg softened. A can of whole tomatoes, a cup of chicken broth, and we are cooking away. I doubled the tomatoes, and that gave the gumbo a reddish appearance, whereas traditionally, I think gumbo is browner.

The majority of the liquid in the gumbo, though, came from a batch of homemade stock that Janet made from two meaty turkey carcasses saved from Thanksgiving and the usual stock vegetables. This stock was very good--rich and flavorful. From the fridge, it jiggled gelatinously in the bowl before I added it.

A little brown basmati rice accompanied the dish, and I must say it was quite agreeable to my taste buds, though something happened with the rice. I decided to make more, so I think I added more liquid to my liquid I already had boiling after I had already added more liquid. It was all right, albeit a little smooshy.

Where Y'at? Right here, eating some gumbo, watching the Bobcats win their second in a row.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Christmas Cookies

This year, I decided to bake a few dozen Christmas cookies. I like cookies, and you probably do, too, but making cookies, much like any other act of cooking or baking, is labor intensive. Opus vita. Of course, you can go to the store and buy tubes of dough and throw it into the oven. That method is fine. However, I believe that a lot is lost in the translation of soul-cookie-love using that method.

So I decided on five different varieties of cookie: the omnipresent Peanut-Butter Blossom, Macaroons, Sugar, Wedding, and Ginger. Let us begin with a short tale concerning the creation of PB Blossoms.

PBBs are some of my favorites. When I lived in PA, my aunt Charlotte baked these cookies for me on many occasions. I always enjoyed them, but I have not eaten any for some time, so I decided to bake a few. As I mixed the ingredients and made dough balls that would eventually become cookies, I noticed that I had approximately half of the yield that the recipe told me I could expect.

Upon removing them from the oven, I noticed that the cookies were double the size of a reasonable PBB, and one Hershey Kiss looked forlorn sitting there, so I began placing two Hershey kisses on each cookie. The resulting appearance of the cookie was unexpected but fully appreciated. Blossoms, indeed.

Now, I am not a skilled baker, as I lack the proper experience, but I do have certain expectations when I set out upon a task, cookie making included. These macaroons provided me a thorough and disappointing learning experience. First, macaroon dough is sticky sticky. A good trick for dealing with sticky dough is to use wet fingers, and I thought I had my problems licked, but I did not.

I had the idea to bake the macaroons on sheets of waxed paper as I thought the cookies would remove easier from the sheet. Not so. The cookies stuck to the paper and would not relinquish their grasp. Perhaps if I had allowed them to cook longer they would have peeled right off, but my anxiety over burning things sometimes prohibits proper browning. I thought they were done anyway, and so I probably lost half of my macaroons. The tops were okay to eat, but the crispy browned bottom is the best part and most of the bottoms had irremovable pieces of parchment baked right in. The dogs did not mind eating a little parchment. But half success is better than no success, I guess.

Mexican Wedding Cookies are good. It is unfortunate that they can be quite dry when they do not have to be. Hence my anxiety with leaving things to bake for too long. These cookies were not dry. These cookies were delicate and delicious, covered with hills of confectioners sugar. The challenge with these was removing them from the pan without them crumbling. More cooling would have prevented that, but I had a lot of cookies to make and I was wearing thin on patience. The other challenge was not eating them all myself, but rather sharing them, which was the goal of baking cookies in the first place.

Gingers proved to be the best of the cookies, in my opinion--an airy, crisp and light cookie with a hint of ginger and sugar apropos of the Christmas Season. Some of the batches I squashed thinner with the bottom of a pint glass, creating a crisper cookie. I preferred the thicker gingers, as they had a bit more chew. If I was ever going to make cookies for anything, this variety is the winner. Truly delicious and noteworthy.

I made a ton of sugar cookies, and I ate about a half ton of them. It is fortunate that I waited until the end to make these cookies since the stiffness of the dough killed a few of the gears in my hand mixer when it seized the beater before tearing it away from the machine. The mixer barely limped along after that malfunction, and I believe she will have to be retired from cookie making if not from service entirely.

I rolled the dough fairly thin before cutting the shapes, sprinkling a little sugar on their tops before they went into the oven, and they baked up crisply with a very nice sugar flavor perfect for eating with coffee.

I then loaded up two tins with a few of each type of cookie, heavy on the sugar cookies since I had a pile of them, one each for Billie, my neighbor woman who is 85 and still mows her own grass, and another for the self-proclaimed hermit across the street, also named Bill.

When I checked the mail today, I found a thank you note from Billie, and it is possibly the best compliment I ever received. It said: "...You had a large part in making my Christmas a good one this year with the delicious homemade cookies. My mother used to make thin 'tea cake' sugar cookies--yours brought back wonderful memories."

That's how Soul-Cookie-Love works.

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