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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