February, 2007 Archive

Monday, February 26, 2007

recipes from a cumin junkie

pomegranate seeds, unrelated

Considering that I was on a two year extended Indian cooking kick before I started this site, I find it odd that I have included but one Indian-spiced recipe in the time since. I’m not sure if others do this, but I tend to go in and out of food crazes — currently, the absolutely only thing I want to eat after the gym is tofu pad thai, which doesn’t sound so horrible until you consider that I hit the gym three times a week, and no doubt reverse its effects just as often. I’ve gone through similar phases with poached eggs (atop anything), dinners of asparagus and roasted tiny red potatoes (only), dumplings, and for two torturous months of Alex’s life, a certain Belgian Endive and Grain Mustard salad of Nigella Lawson’s I fiended for, even first thing in the morning.

red split lentils with cabbage

The Indian cooking bender was no different. What I loved was that you would take the simplest ingredients and render them into hearty, filling and unbelievably healthy dishes, and blow your expectations of lentils out of the water. Their fiscal smarts also cannot be overlooked. Once we’d bought the six or seven spices we continually came back to, we’d stand flabbergasted at the register as our lentils, cauliflower, potatoes and peas came to a mere $5 — and created leftovers that were as good if not better than they were the first day. But the real Indian food addiction was those spices; once they got under my skin (and permanently stained several cooking implements), I couldn’t stop itching for more of them. I became, excruciatingly enough, a cumin seed junkie.

indian spiced cauliflower and potatoes

Continued after the jump »

Saturday, February 24, 2007

vanilla bean pound cake

vanilla bean pound cake

The truth is, I bought my very first vanilla bean only last week when I was making rice pudding. It’s not that I didn’t know how fantastic they are in all of their clarity of flavor and little-goes-a-long way charm, I was just both too cheap to buy them, and too afraid to go down that slippery slope whereby no extract would do ever satisfy me again.

I finally justified the expense by rationalizing that rice pudding is such an insanely inexpensive dessert, even half — half! — of a five-dollar* bean wasn’t that big of a deal. And I’d reuse it until it was tapped out, next time in something that didn’t require as strong of a flavor and then pulsing it in the food processor with sugar for the best sweetener in the world. Isn’t it incredible the way we fuss over a twice-reusable $2.50 expense that can carry over to a dozen or more dessert portions, but rarely note the difference between a 10 or 13 dollar pasta dish on a restaurant menu? (Oh wait, someone wrote a book on this.)

vanilla bean pound cake

This hasn’t kept me from feeling despicably posh in the week since as my worst fears were quickly confirmed: nothing else will ever do, ever. Fine, brownies don’t need freshly-scraped vanilla speckles, and maybe not banana bread either. Apple pie can do without and, yes, butter cream frosting as well. But custards, creams, puddings and, for certain, white cakes just hit the big time because, sweet mercy, fresh vanilla is a flavor more profound than chocolate. More profound. Than chocolate. Hold me.

Continued after the jump »

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

baked tomato sauce

baked tomato sauce

Last week, the stunningly redesigned Delicious Days — seriously, looking at that site brings rolling fields awash in sunlight to mind — paid homage to food blogs and the way they quickly became her favorite place to get recipes; they’re tested, photographed and honestly discussed. I couldn’t agree more, except unlike Delicious Days, I sometimes bookmark recipes others have referenced but then completely forget who first whispered the url in my ear. This is a both wonderful and terrible thing, wonderful because Monday night, I made one of the best tomato sauces I’ve ever eaten, but terrible because I can’t remember who to thank.

tomatoes, ready to roast

Nonetheless, if you’re into that whole, oh, you know, blistered tomato, garlic/olive oil/sharp cheese type of thing, you simply must try this. The best part, if you ask me, is that you can even make it with those cherry or large grape tomatoes that stay eerily fantastic — I try not to question it — through the winter. Halve them and roast them cut side up in an olive oil slicked baking dish and top them with a mix of bread crumbs, garlic, parmesan and romano cheeses for all of twenty minutes, and ta-da, deliciousness is yours.

cacades

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Monday, February 19, 2007

vegetable dumplings

vegetable dumplings

In case I haven’t broadcasted this loudly enough in the 114 entries prior to today, I tend to get a little obsessive in the kitchen when trying to find “perfect” recipes. “Perfect” is always some approximation of an ideal that got etched in my tastebuds in some other time and place — there’s salted butter caramel (Paris), bretzel rolls (a Fresh Direct discovery), frisee with poached eggs (Balthazar, 2003) and one day soon, those truffles from La Maison du Chocolat, as my wee Valentine’s Day supply has rapidly diminished. I know better than to try to go back to such a place and expect the same experiences time after time, but it doesn’t mean I can’t have warming fits of nostalgia when I find a lost flavor on my dinner plate.

Case in point today is the steamed vegetable dumplings from Ollie’s, a small chain of large Chinese restaurants up the west side of Manhattan. Growing up, I was absorbed with them and it’s (of course) my mother’s fault, as she would bring an order of them home for us after spending a day in the city, and I’d have them cold directly from the refrigerator as soon as I woke up the next day. They were perfect: dense but not too heavy, brightly flavored and full of tiny but easily-recognized ingredients — no mystery blend here!

dumplings a-steaming

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

for beaming, bewitching breads

dill bread

For months now, my obsession with bread making has snowballed, leaving me eager buy a bread-specific cookbook to further fill our apartment, and my idle hours, with kneaded deliciousness. I believe I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m extraordinarily conservative about the cookbooks I buy. On one hand, it’s a space issue — isn’t it always? — but considering that this hasn’t kept me from buying a pasta-cranker, too many baking pans and, most insanely, six varieties of flours, it’s hard argue that an stuffed apartment is truly a deterrent. More accurately, I find it impossible to make decisions. Berebaum’s Bread Bible? Silverton’s La Brea Bakery? Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice? I always thought I wanted this book, but how can one ever know for sure? Thus, I delay and delay, as if owning two bread cookbooks would be a crime against humanity. (Please, speak up if there is a bread book that makes you swoon.)

But it doesn’t mean I’m twiddling my thumbs until new inspiration brings itself home. In fact, I’ve been discovering gems of bread recipes tucked right inside cookbooks I already have. What a concept! Beer breads and cheese breads and oaty fruity rolls and… well, I can’t tell you everything, can I? What suspense is there in that?

dill bread

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