Archive for May 2010
I don’t cook Indian often at home, but it’s not for lack of love of the cuisine, and especially, its fragrant spices. I reviewed Ragavan Iyer’s tome while at The Sun and just met this Indian chef extraordinaire at the recent IACP conference in Portland. But lately I’ve been most fascinated by the fusion recipes of Monica Bhide, who regularly writes for The Post‘s food section and NPR’s Kitchen Window. And her newish Modern Spice cookbook is a gem. Mark Bittman wrote the introduction.
Because morels are the most tempting wild mushroom now in season, Bhide’s Morel Pulao with Cashews grabbed me. I’ve made it twice now, both times without the exact ingredients on hand. I substituted sauteed chanterelle duxelles for the morels the first time and used fresh ones this second time. Didn’t have paneer on hand to use either time, and I had trouble “stuffing” the morels without causing them to crumble. Still, this aromatic, flexible basmati rice dish makes an excellent side or even main dish with a salad. Sauteeing the cardamom, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, grated onion and ground cashews together creates quite a comforting perfume. This is delicate Indian comfort food. The recipe is also less complicated than it sounds. Maybe next I’ll tackle South Indian masala dosas, with their fermented crepe batter. But for now, a rice pulao is a nice place to start. Click below for the recipe.
Of all the bounty that grows in Oregon, our berries are best. We even have certain varietals–think Marionberries–exclusively developed and grown here. So naturally I’d want to try to cultivate some of these sweet gems in my home garden.
Last summer, let’s just say I didn’t get off to the best start. I bought a hanging strawberry basket that unfortunately dried up, as it got ignored while we were traveling all of July and part of August. I also had two discounted blueberry plants shrivel up when I waited to long to plant them. But a $2 gooseberry from the Habitat for Humanity Restore miraculously survived. It’s only promising about two gooseberries this spring, but that’s a start. Not that I’ve ever cooked with gooseberries. But I hear they make nice pie and jam.
To keep slugs at bay, I’ve got about a half dozen strawberry plants in small pots. The ants still seem to be crawling all over the few ripe owns. Our erratic weather just hasn’t been warm enough to redden them up. Heck, it even hailed last week, and farms suffered the damages. I can see why local growers such as Denison Farms do strawberries in hoop houses. Now I appreciate their labor. And they grow them without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, unlike my once-beloved Baugher’s pick-your-own berry farm in Maryland. When I went out to the Taneytown area farm to report my story for The Baltimore Sun, I remember some whitish and blue chemical residue around their strawberries made those bright red rubies slightly less appetizing.
At least one of two blueberry plants looks like it will yield a bit of a crop. I dug two scrawny five-year old bushes (can’t remember if they were Bluecrops, Chandlers or Dukes) up from a patch Hazelnut Hill orchard wanted to clear out. Not bad for $5 a piece. But I probably didn’t amend our clay soil enough before planting those shallow rooted things at home. I did try to mix in some acidic mulch to encourage the ground to drain a bit better. Then we had a truck blow some mulch into the area. Hope it wasn’t all for naught. It did pain me to see the honeybees mostly ignore my two bushes in favor of the neighbors’ heartier berries in early May. I planted ours near their border, to encourage cross-pollination. Survival of the fittest, indeed.
Searching for a fail-safe dessert recipe that’s always sure to impress your guests? What about a simple, but elegant, no-bake panna cotta?
I ran across this luscious recipe from our local Nancy’s Yogurt while searching for something new to do with rhubarb. It’s from Cathy Whims of Portland’s acclaimed Italian spot, Nostrana. To lighten it up, I used two-thirds yogurt to one-thirds cream. I couldn’t stop dipping my spoon into the pot as the concoction warmed. And it was hard to wait overnight for the gelatinous molds to cool before digging in. But then your work is done and your dessert sits patiently in the fridge, waiting for your guests. Minimal assembly is required. Just un-mold the ramekins, jiggling the panna cotta out with that satisfying Jello thwump. Garnish with fruit and serve. In addition to strawberry and rhubarb, it’s also delicious with creamy, cut-up mango.
Your guests will be delighted. My brother-in-law said it was one of the best desserts (he must have meant at-home desserts) he’s ever had. It’s like a custard or creme brulee but easier on the waistline and so much easier to prepare. This yogurt panna cotta almost reminds me of that custard-style Yoplait Thick & Creamy I used to love as a child, but better. It’s all about the texture. But then so many memorable foods are.
I think I’ve only made panna cotta once before, a lumpier pumpkin panna cotta for Thanksgiving that was hard to strain and keep smooth. I remember loving a passion fruit panna cotta I once splurged on at the Silver Moon Bakery on the Upper Upper West Side. I plan to make this panna cotta during next winter’s grapefruit season. This non-baker is thrilled to have another dessert to add to her repertoire. Just don’t wear it out, right?
Just when I start getting back my momentum, I’ve abandoned you dear readers (if you still exist!) again. My sister was visiting from ATL, and then this week I had the cheesy Food Show and mounds of end-of-term papers to still grade. Excuses, excuses, I know.
After clogging my arteries with too much free cheese at the recent Seattle Cheese Festival, a light meal of raw, fresh, vegetal sushi appealed. I sprang for some nori, tiny ume plums, roasted sesame seeds and polished rice at Rice & Spice, a little Asian mart near downtown that I’m reminded of when I bike by. We had a ripe (now in season from California!) avocado at home as well as shaved ginger I pickled recently, with Linda Ziedrich’s easy recipe. And I had garlic scapes from dear Sang to use instead of scallions in the rolls. Though now I worry why hasn’t my garlic, which I dutifully sowed around Columbus Day, produced its own scapes yet? I want to make garlic scape pesto!
My package of nori prodded me to try an inside-outside fancy maki roll, with rice and roasted sesame on the outside, for the first time. If you line your bamboo mat with plastic wrap it really isn’t any harder than a regular roll. Just really press the rice into the sheet of nori. And cut that sheet in half. I usually use the whole sheet but that makes it actually harder to roll. Cutting is always harder than rolling for me. That’s when the sushi can fall apart. It’s important to cut the rolls with a sharp knife, which sadly mine are not. Nothing like making sushi to remind a gal her knives need sharpening!
Check out my FOODday article this week on Oregon’s rabbit farmers. It certainly generated a lot of criticism. But active debate as good, as long as folks remain respectful. I hope my critics will note that non-profits such as Heiffer International encourage subsistence farmers to raise rabbits for meat to prevent hunger and reduce global poverty.
Some random seasonal ingredients I sprang for through Corvallis Local Foods came together in my souped up version of the Greek avgolemono (Lemon and Egg) soup Monday night. I fell in love with this simple soup while waiting tables the summer after my sophomore year of college at the now defunct Konsta’s Restaurant in Richmond. That soup was the one thing we were allowed to eat on the house.
Purchasing some tart sorrel leaves inspired my recipe. I had never heard of this cool weather spring green until chancing upon it at the market last year. Related to astringent rhubarb, sorrel is high in potassium and Vitamin C, but also oxalic acid, so it should be eaten in moderation, especially if you’re prone to kidney stones. I also just put one scrappy sorrel plant in my garden and look forward to harvesting the perennial next spring. Chefs seem to use it in salads, sauces and pestos and soups. It seems my impulse to pair lemony sorrel with creamy eggs was right.
Then I had homemade chicken stock in the fridge, after roasting a whole bird. Plus farm fresh eggs and plenty of lemons. So avgolemono, or to be exact, an adaptation of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood “Mediterranean Lemon Soup” it would be. In a separate pan, I caramelized onions and then sauteed some cross-section circles of the morels I finally got my hands on from the Mushroomery and added that to the finished soup. I had plenty of mint and other herbs in the garden for garnish. Instead of rice, I added my favorite “Harvest Grains” blend of Israeli couscous, quinoa, orzo and split baby garbanzo beans to the mix.
The resulting soup was creamy and light but still heartier than such lemon-egg soups usually are. We had stuffed artichokes to round out the meal. More on artichokes TK in another post.