Sunday, February 12, 2017

Other Cultures Cooking Project: Cannellini and Lamb Soup (Ottolenghi/Tamimi)


Cannellini and Lamb Soup from Jerusalem, p. 135, photo by RM

This is probably one of the best soups I have ever made and was absolutely perfect for the snowy wintery weather we've been having.












A few things.

It calls for 20 cloves of garlic.
 

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KITCHEN GADGET ALERT: GARLIC EDITION!


This is my favorite tool to peel garlic. It shouldn't cost more than 2 bucks. You don't need anything fancier. All you need is a clean, stable, and dry surface. The older the garlic, the easier it is to peel.

This actually works, believe it or not, in removing garlic odors from your hands. Yes, I know, you can rub your hands all over your stainless steel kitchen faucet, but forgive me if I think this is more graceful. And a shout out here to Katie (over at Cook The Book Fridays) who sent me my steel soap one year for Christmas!

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I made no substitutions, except that I used canned cannellini beans because planning ahead enough to soak dried ones never happens. I threw them in with the potatoes in the last 20 minutes of cooking time. I recommend letting your taste, smell, and sight guide you, rather than following the cooking times exactly. I didn't need a full hour to simmer the meat and the potatoes were done in about 15.

Also, if you've never used cardamom pods, you are missing out.

This particular recipe reflects the culinary influence Jews in Yemen who settled there in the 1950s. I'm not interested in getting political here on this blog, but I am interested in a cultural exploration of food. The cardamom, turmeric, and cumin were beautifully balanced. Ottolenghi notes that adding cinnamon would make it more in the tradition of Aleppine Jews.

We paired it with a good and relatively inexpensive red blend from South Africa. I suggest decanting and letting it breathe. My husband says I always say that, but with this wine, I really mean it! It was heavy on the berries and fruit, but became a much more interesting wine by the end of the glass.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Other Cultures Cooking Project: Monks' Salad with Garlicky Dressing (Malouf)

I will start this post with a pseudo-apology to the Ohio College of Clinical Pharmacy. Yes... in the unlikely event that my Other Cultures Cooking Project becomes more a more popular choice in Google algorithms, I apologize pre-emptively to anyone more interested in Zocor (TM) than za'atar.

With that out of the way...welcome to the first official Other Cultures Cooking Project Post! I did spend ample time agonizing over the name--I hesitate to use "other" as I am "other" to other others, but setting aside academic navel-gazing, I think we understand that it is contextual: "other cultures foreign to me." And we can understand that I'm not even sure what constitutes my "culture" so there's that too.

What started this is that I believe food is one of the most important (and enjoyable) ways to learn about people--culturally, socially, economically.  I like to learn. I like to cook. I like to eat. So, a no-brainer, in other words.

I will still feature occasional recipes that are fairly close to home, but I'm making a concerted effort to break out of my culinary comfort zone (sometimes named "Ina Garten") to learn about the larger world, especially as we become increasingly and frighteningly insular in this country. Yes, that is political commentary.

For Christmas I received Greg and Lucy Malouf's Saha: A Chef's Journey through Lebanon and Syria. It seemed a perfect place to start this journey. The book itself is gorgeous and informative. I'm enjoying reading the prose and learning about a part of the world about which I know little, save for the horrific images on the TV and in newspapers right now. The recipe featured in this post comes from a section of the book that illuminates the Bekaa (Beqaa) Valley, one of the major agricultural regions in Lebanon. In contrast to the lovely photographs of greenery and produce, the Maloufs describe a poor and unsupported sector that never fully recovered from the civil war. The valley is home to a variety of Christian, Catholic, and Orthodox sects so in this respect, the name of the recipe is not surprising.

Monks' Salad with Garlicky Dressing (Saha, p. 137)
Recipe: 4/5 stars
Ingredients*: baby turnips, baby carrots, baby leeks, shallots, cauliflower, baby green beans, olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic, cilantro, coriander seeds, black peppercorns, allspice berries, red bird's eye chili
Good as leftovers: YES! See below.
Ease: 5/5
Challenges/Surprises:
  • Obtaining certain ingredients at local grocery store (namely allspice berries and a red bird's-eye chili).
  • Using half my body weight in olive oil  (slight exaggeration)
Alterations/Substitutions: Baby veggies were hard to come by in New England winter, so I used fully grown carrots, turnips, and leeks--chopping them to more manageable size.

Notes for next time: The recipe calls for one clove of garlic. Perhaps my Italian-American heritage will not allow me to appreciate the subtlety in a single clove. I'll be using at least two next time, particularly if we claim that the dressing is "garlicky." 

 ---
Evidently, "boiled vegetable salads" are common to the eastern Mediterranean. My mouth does not water when I hear "boiled vegetables," but this was a delightful surprise. First, the vegetables are "boiled" in olive oil, not water. The thought of using this much oil for anything other than frying has never occurred to me, but I can see the benefits! The oil infuses the vegetables with the subtle spices of the bouquet garni (or Malouf's far less pretentious "spice bag") and the sherry vinegar dressing highlights--rather than competes with--the natural flavors of the vegetables (in particular the leeks).

Better yet--storing the vegetables (out of the oil) in the fridge overnight yields a wonderful chilled/pickled salad for the next day!

*Quantities of ingredients are left out in order to protect copyright

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Cooking in 2015 & Bittman's Mini Minimalist

Happy New Year! I'm not a big one for resolutions, but I've realized that I've been slacking on cooking, and that has to change (for both budget and health considerations). I do love Blue Apron, but while I'm on break from teaching I'm trying to plan meals and cook more often.

Santa was kind enough to bring us Mark Bittman's The Mini Minimalist set, as well as Ottolenghi and Tamimi's Jerusalem cookbook.

Thus far in the new year, I've made Bittman's "Broiled Bluefish or Mackerel with Green Tea Salt" (The Mini Minimalist: Meat, Fish & Poultry, 20-21). We had to substitute sea bass as that was the fish that was available and least likely to compete with the green tea (something told me salmon would be funky).

The neat part of this recipe is the green tea powder with coarse salt. Bittman recommends grinding one's own green tea, but I went for Matcha powder since I had it on hand.

The recipe worked out fairly well, except that I'd cut the salt down to 1/2 tablespoon next time. You will have to adjust how much salt you want according to your taste. I served it with "Stir-Fried Leeks with Ginger" (Bittman, The Mini-Minimalist: Vegetables, 48) and "Rice Salad with Peas and Soy" (Bittman, The Mini-Minimalist: Pizza, Pasta & Grains, 86). The rice salad was really excellent as were the leeks. With the latter, the recipe doesn't make a lot, so I recommend more than two leeks.


Broiled Sea Bass with Green Tea Salt; Rice Salad with Peas and Soy; Stir-Fried Leeks with Ginger

Feeling more adventurous, I tried the "Slow-Cooked Lamb with Fresh Mint Sauce" the next day. I toyed with the idea of doing this in the slow cooker, but I think the cooking time would be much longer as most slow cookers seem to fall under 250 degrees at their highest temps. The recipe is for a six pound leg of lamb, and I should have cut the cooking time--probably in half. Bittman doesn't provide a temperature guide. But aside from being well-done, it was very very good. The secret is poking holes in the lamb and stuffing those holes with a paste of  minced garlic and salt. If you enjoy spackling, you'll enjoy this process:
Not so beautiful at this point, but you get the idea. The good news is, I'm glad I chose to do it in the oven because I don't think it would have looked like this in the slow cooker:
 It was supposed to be accompanied with a green beans and tomato dish, but I forgot to buy the green beans. So, quick n' dirty salad to the rescue. The mint sauce would have been better if I had remembered to make it sooner--I didn't have the patience to let the sherry vinegar and sugar become more viscous, so all the mint floated to the top of the "sauce." That's what you see scooped on the finished product below:

Slow-Cooked Leg of Lamb with green salad
RECIPES USED:
Broiled Mackerel (Sea Bass) with Green Tea Salt (Bittman): 4 stars
Rice Salad with Peas and Soy (Bittman): 4.5 stars
Stir-Fried Leeks with Ginger (Bittman): 4.5 stars
Slow-Cooked Leg of Lamb (Bittman): 4 stars

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Blue Apron: A Review



5-Spice Pork Buns with Red Cabbage, Carrot & Thai Basil Salad (4/4 stars)
A friend was kind enough to send me a free trial of Blue Apron, a subscription cook-it-yourself service. I was skeptical at first, based on some of the  criticisms I have below, but after three weeks,  I'm quite hooked. It has been perfect for this busy end of the semester as it removes the parts I hate most: planning and shopping.  I don't plan on using it much this summer when I have access to farmer's markets, and time to think about something other than my career, but since many have asked, I thought I'd do a little review here.

Orange-glazed Chicken Drumsticks with Mashed Yucca and Arugula Salad (4/4 stars)

PROS:
  • not having to plan the meals (which I like to do occasionally, but not for the entire week)

  • no food waste, as they send you only the amount that you need for the recipe

  • no food shopping other than to pick up staples (breakfast stuff, etc) for the week

  • geared toward people who don't know how to cook a whole lot, so, for example, a recipe will direct you to "peel a lemon, avoiding the pith, then cut the peel into zest with a sharp knife."  Glory hallelujah was I ever excited to have my Microplane zester. (I have this under "pros" though because they really are serious when they say you just need salt, pepper, and olive oil). 

  • there's no minimum commitment, so with 6 days notice, you can do it, or not do it, for the week. Cancelling the service involves writing an e-mail.

  • The price runs $55-$65 for three meals a week for 2 people. That's very reasonable considering how much money I spend eating out at restaurants and paying for food that is sustainable and organic.

CONS:
  • packaging.  Supposedly it is all recyclable and/or biodegradable, but there is A LOT of it, as you might imagine. It comes with these huge monstrous ice packs which can be re-used (by you), or defrosted and emptied of their gel. This is a pain. And my freezer can hold maybe one or two of these things...so if I'm getting one every week...

  • not knowing where the food came from.  I will say this---the produce is quite beautiful, actually.  The meat seemed to be high quality, but I have no idea about its sustainability. Their website says "emphasis on sustainable practices" but that doesn't really tell me anything.  I appreciated the organic soba noodles, but my primary concern is not the soba noodles.
Cod over Linguine with Fresh Peas, Meyer Lemon & Spring Herbs (3.5/4 stars)
SO...

In a perfect world, this is what I'd love to see:

  • Less packaging: Have key ingredients for the week and the cook has to be responsible for portioning the parsley or scallions,  for example. This is part of learning how to cook!
  • Packaging Pick-Up: If there was some way to pickup the boxes, liners and ice-packs when the food gets dropped off, that would be fantastic. I'd even be willing to pay a bit extra to have some way to plop a return label on the box, seal it, and send it back with those materials that the company can reuse.
Fennel-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Grapefruit, Mustard Greens & Japonica Black Rice (4/4 STARS)
 I think Blue Apron is really a great service and very well-suited toward:

  • People who are very busy but don't want to eat take out or go out every night.
  • People who want to learn how to cook
  • People living on their own (3 meals = 6 meals, as there is a 2 person minimum)
If you wind up using the service, I do recommend buying a Microplane zester as almost every recipe has some sort of zest in it! That zester is my absolute favorite kitchen tool.

More Info:
This article in from Fortune Magazine (online) reports that Blue Apron is doing quite well. It also mentions how it contrasts with Plated, a similar service.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Leftover Peas: A Triple Threat (Couscous, Purée, Risotto)

Ina Garten's Couscous with Peas and Mint: 3.5 stars

Sometimes you make couscous for 15 people (Ina Garten's "Couscous with Peas and Mint" from her Foolpoof: Recipes You Can Trust) and convince yourself that you need to double the recipe. Then you find that it probably wasn't necessary to buy TWO bags of frozen peas. Now you find yourself staring at a whole lot of leftover defrosted peas. What to do?

Here's one idea! How about lamb sausage (more specifically, lamb-apricot sausage from Savenor's) with a mint-pea purée? (It is winter, so I used this recipe for the purée and left off the pea shoots, etc). Do remember that a little bit of fresh mint goes a long way, so you may want to adjust the amounts depending on your preferred pea-taste to mint-taste ratio.


 Serious Eats' "Lamb Sausage with Pea Purée": 4 stars

But one can only make/eat so much mint-pea purée. I was excited to try Food52's Peas Porridge Hot recipe until I discovered I only had "quick-cooking-but-not-instant" steel cut oats. So, I threw together this simple risotto for lunch, and finally used up the rest of the peas!
Peas Risotto Hot

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large chopped shallots (of course)
1 cup arborio rice
3 cups heated chicken stock (you may need more, depending on your preferred consistency)
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1 to 2 cups frozen peas (defrosted)--yes, fresh are better if they are seasonal
1/8 cup heavy cream
freshly ground pepper
prosciutto (4 slices, shredded)--optional

In a medium saucepan or heavy-bottomed dutch oven, melt the butter and oil over medium heat.
Add the chopped shallots and cook until translucent (3-5 minutes).
Add the arborio rice and coat all the grains with the butter/oil mixture.

Add the heated stock 1/2 cup at a time. Wait for the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup. (You may be able to add more at a time, so watch it carefully to gauge the rate of liquid absorption). Be sure to stir from the bottom (I like using a bamboo spatula) to prevent the rice from sticking. The adding-liquid process will probably take about 20-25 minutes.

When you have used all the stock, the rice should have a bit of a bite, but also a creamy consistency.

Add the peas, and remove from heat. Stir in the cheese and cream, and add pepper to taste.  Add the shredded prosciutto at the very last minute, stir and serve.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cookbook Geekiness and Braised Chicken

A friend of mine posted a link to Eat Your Books, and so I thought I'd try it out.  The website indexes cookbooks, blogs, and magazines to create a database of recipes. When you sign up, you add the cookbooks you own to your "shelf" (as well as any blogs and magazines), and this creates a searchable database of ingredients. So, for example, last night I typed in "chicken thighs" and my results returned recipes from Food 52, The Kitchn, Barbara Lynch's Stir, etc...blogs I follow and a book I own.  What follows is a little evaluation of the website thus far:

CONS:
  • The free trial allows for only 5 shelf items (including books, blogs and magazines)
  • Not everything is indexed (although this is to be expected)
  • They do warn you that basic ingredients (salt, pepper, olive oil, etc) are not indexed, but I found that this can also include fresh herbs (tarragon, thyme) etc...so, not so useful as a grocery store tool, depending on the recipe.

PROS:
  • you can request that a book, blog or magazine be indexed
  • there is a forum for communicating with other users and the EYB team
  • the index status of an item is marked
  • You can index items yourself (I have not tried this yet)
 The service is $25 a year. That will be a pro or a con depending on your situation.  For me, I decided it was worth it, and so far I've been pretty happy.  It is a serious time saver as I can access the ingredients of the recipes in my cookbooks (many of them, anyway) and the recipes in my favorite blogs, in about 30 seconds, as opposed to combing through my myriad cookbooks.  I hate dealing with "what's in the fridge and what do I do with it?" but this may help with that.

Last night, my search results returned
 Braised Chicken Thighs with Tomatoes and Garlic from Food52. It was easy, and I like things that simmer on the stove in the winter (and allow me to pull the rest of dinner together). I didn't have fresh thyme on hand, but I substituted some dried thyme and basil, and it worked just fine. The salad has a homemade vinaigrette of star date vinegar, Aceto balsamic di Modena, and white wine vinegar (with olive oil), and was mixed with marcona almonds and parmesan. (If you are lucky enough to live near a Vom Fass, I HIGHLY RECOMMEND that you go splurge on some vinegars and oils...and/or scotch---you can also order online!). The dolmades were bought on a whim and I needed to use them ;-).
(Apologies for the bright red color of the tomato sauce--not that bright in real life!)

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Theme and Variations: Crisp Sesame Fish with Soy Glaze

flounder, sesame seeds (black & white), dark sesame oil, butter, soy sauce, sugar


One of the reasons Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is such an invaluable resource in my house is because I can use it for something I hate: cooking without planning. At this point in the semester, my mind is full of grading, student crises, and just getting through the next few weeks. So getting out to the Farmer's Market and picking up fresh flounder seemed like a huge accomplishment.  And then dinner time rolled around, and I realized I had absolutely no plans for that flounder, beyond consuming it.

Enter Mark Bittman. How to Cook Everything has never failed me.  I went to the section on "Thin White Fish Fillets," which includes his mini-rant regarding why he's not a big fan of tilapia (who knew?). Almost all the recipes in this section had ingredients that I had on hand, but I finally settled on the "Crisp Sesame Fish with Soy Glaze," which was a variation on his "Crisp Sesame Fish Fillets," which in turn was a variation on his "Pan-Cooked Thin Fish Fillets."  Bittman's Theme and Variations approach allows you to simply restate a recipe in another key, or add a countermelody and syncopation, if you are feeling adventurous! ;-)