Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Mexican Fiesta

A few years ago I was dating a guy who only made one dish--mexican fiesta. I was all excited, expecting some carne asada and cotija, but it turned out to be bean burritos. With organic black beans. And jarred salsa.

Even that was a step up from the tacos we ate growing up. Hard taco shells, ground beef with taco spice mix, preshredded american cheese, iceberg lettuce and pace taco sauce.

They're not bad in their own right. Just a different food category.

These are a bit more fussy. A bit more mexican. I had to twist Cobe's arm to get him to stop by the mexican butcher shop.

"Can't we just go to Thriftway? It's already 6 oclock."

Pouting sad face. "But they have better meat at the mexican place."

He caved. A few minutes later we were in Carniceria el paisano. This place is amazing. Real mexican. Half of the cuts of meat I had never even heard of. Crazy bright red chorizo hanging from the ceiling. I picked out some skirt steak.

"You want it marinaded?" the guy behind the counter asked.

In a few minutes we had a big lump of meat layered with orange and onion, a block of cotija, some nopalito salsa, and some fresh tortillas. At home I decided to add some fresh ground ancho chili and cumin to the meat, as it seemed kind of bland. Then I threw it under the broiler for a few minutes on a side.

It came out great, but a bit salty. Next time I'll make my own spice mix as who knows what was in the mystery marinade. But mixed with the avocado, cotija and cilantro on the warm corn tortillas, it was pretty awesome.

We even pulled out all the stops and got the canned presliced olives for Chris. He probably would have preferred those crunchy tacos with spice mix ground beef, but he downed a few of these just fine. We cracked a few Negro Modelos and pretended it was August.

But I have to admit I pined a bit for the carne asada I made this summer on the grill. It was out of this world. I'll give you the recipe for that. Next time maybe I'll dodge the raindrops and fire that puppy up.

Carne Asada Tacos (from Bon Appetit July 2007)
20 servings

8 garlic cloves
2/3 cup ancho chili powder (grind 6-10 ancho chili's in a coffee grinder, it's amazing fresh. They're also called pasilla peppers.)
3T brown sugar
2T gr. black pepper
4 tsp. mexican oregano, dried
4 tsp ground cumin (grind fresh if you can)
4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
5# skirt steak, cut into 6" lengths

Put garlic through press. Mix with chile powder, brown sugar, pepper, oregano, cumin, salt and cinnamon. Spread over steaks. Let stand 1 hour. Grill to desired doneness (~4 minutes/side) then let rest 10 minutes. Cu into 1/2 inch wide strips.

Serve with warm corn tortillas, lime juice, avocado, chopped cilantro, chopped onion, cotija cheese, salsa and hotsauce.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Sweet Potato Coconut Curry with Sticky Rice


It's been raining a lot here lately and the rain made me want sweet potatoes.

I started burrowing through my cookbooks but came up empty handed. And then I looked in Culinary Artistry and I saw it.

Coconut. Sweet potatoes go with coconut.

I'd make a thai curry.

This is a bit of a made up recipe. I used a curry paste from my favorite thai cookbook (The Original Thai Cookbook) and added sweet potatoes, red peppers and onions. If you're not trying to get some use out of your mortar and pestle, you could also use jarred paste. There are some good ones out there.

Came out pretty yummy, in the end. I made sticky rice too. Sticky rice is the BOMB.

Sweet Potato Coconut Curry

2-3 sweet potatoes, diced
2 medium onions, sliced thinly
2 red peppers, sliced thinly
1/2 cup minced cilantro
1 1/2 cups coconut milk

curry paste:
1 stalk lemon grass, minced
1 tsp turmeric
3 cloves garlic, minced
7 dried red chilies blended in a coffee grinder
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
2 shallots finely chopped
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg

The original recipe also calls for 1 tsp shrimp paste and 1tsp laos (galangal) but I didn't have these so I added a little premade curry paste. You could also add a bit of fish sauce instead of the shrimp paste (or even just salt). Galangal is like mild ginger, so you might be able to replace it with a smaller amount of ginger.

Anyway. Combine all the above in a mortar and pestle and cream it till smooth. If you are more equipped than me and have a food processor you can do that too. Takes the fun out if it though.

To make the curry:

First heat a bit of oil (vegetable or peanut) in a pan and add the onions, cook on high until they start to brown then turn down low until they are nice and caramelized. Take out of the pan. Now put in coconut milk and then add spice paste to mix. Cook for a few minutes until fragrant. Add sweet potatoes and cook until almost soft covered on low-med heat (20-30 minutes). Then add caramelized onions and red pepper. Cook another few minutes, then add cilantro. Taste for spiciness and salt. Serve.

Sticky Rice

The easiest way to make this is to have this special getup:

You don't absolutely need it, but it costs like 20$ on line and is so much easier so why the hell not. You can get it (and the rice) here.

Soak 2 cups sticky rice overnight. I know I know. You can soak it in warm water for 2 hours and it comes out OK but it really is not as good. You'll taste the difference.

Anyway. Take the soaked rice and wrap it in the cheesecloth, then put it in the top of the steamer basket over boiling water and cook for 25 minutes. If you don't have one of the special steamer set ups, you can use a regular dishcloth (hopefully clean) and put it in a steamer or colander. You might have to turn it halfway through if you do it this way.

Cover it till serving or else it gets dry.

And now everyone will think you are cool because you can make sticky rice. Really.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Lentil soup with bacon

I just got this book "Culinary Artistry" and it's fascinating. Pages and pages of flavor pairings. Lamb with pomegrante. Lentils with foie gras. Lemon with parsley and mint.

I have been dreaming about lentils. Lentils are the sophisticated bean. Perfectly round and thin, like small coins. In Italy they eat on them on the new year to bring prosperity.

Culinary artistry says lentils go well with bacon and parsley. And lemon, tomatoes, bay leaves, goat cheese, foie gras, ham, mint, olive oil, onions, peppers, pork fat, prunes, radishes, sausages, scallions, sorrel, spinach, thyme and sherry vinegar.

They left out mango. And cumin, my favorite with lentils.

If you're in doubt about mango (or cumin), head to Quinn's where they will make you a believer with their cumin scented black lentils with curry roasted cauliflower and raw mango. Just perfect.

Anyway. As I drove home this morning I began putting together a soup in my head. I had some lentils sitting on my counter in an old pasta sauce jar. Leftover carrots, celery and onion in the fridge. Parsley. Bacon. Greek yogurt.

I riffed on an old Jane Brody recipe from "Good Food" (one of my first cookbooks ever, it really is pretty great), and then merged in a little Sally Schneider and some Zuni Cafe. Kind of a hodgepodge but it turned out pretty yummy. Bacon is a friend to the lentil. Especially with parsley. And a little lemon.

Lentil Soup with Bacon

1 tsp olive oil + 1 tbs butter
onion, sliced thinly
2 carrots, sliced thickly
2 stalks celery with some of the leaves, sliced thickly
1 cup lentils (washed and picked over)
1 can diced tomatoes with their juice
1 cup white wine
4-5 cups stock (chicken, veggie, beef....I used chicken but all should work)
bay leaves
2 slices lemon
1/2 cup minced parsley (flat leaf)
pinch cumin
pepper or grains of paradise
2-3 slices bacon, cooked and cut finely

Heat olive oil and butter in a big stock pot. Add onion and saute a few minutes on medium high. You can add in some shallots or garlic as well if you like. I added a shallot. Didn't feel in a garlic mood. Then add carrots and celery. I purposely cut these thick because I like them that way, but you could also mince them fine so they blend into the soup. Saute a few minutes more, then add lentils, wine, stock, tomatoes and bay leaves. Bring to simmer, then cover and cook about 20 minutes. Then add two slices of lemon, a pinch of cumin and a pinch of black pepper. Taste to see if it needs salt (depends on your stock). Cover again and cook another 20 minutes or so until the lentils are soft. Add the parsley and taste again to adjust the pepper and salt. It may need a little kick of balsamic, you decide. Top with a dollop of yogurt (or grated parmigiano reggiano or grated cheddar) and the crumbled bacon.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


It's amazing how different it feels in Seattle on a sunny day. Especially in the winter.

I went for a walk in Lincoln Park on Monday and the place was packed. People walking their dogs, kids making driftwood forts. The mountains stood silhouetted above the water, just crystal clear. Like some sort of paradise.

The tradeoff is the sunny days seem to be colder, with no cloud cover to keep in the warmth. So yesterday after my walk, I decided to make meatloaf. It sounded like just what we needed-- something warm and bacony. Besides, I had just seen a new meatloaf recipe in gourmet.

Cobe was all for it. He's quite a fan of meatloaf. Especially with bacon.

We set off to the store with my gourmet magazine clutched under my arm, and loaded up with ground beef and pork, as well as bacon, dried prunes, carrots, celery, onion and parsley.

The recipe is very french in style, starting with mirepoix (minced carrot, celery, onion, and garlic). I'm not the most finicky mincer, but I've begun to realize the importance of knife skills. The finer you can chop, the finer the flavors you produce. As I sauteed this in some butter, Cobe wandered over.

"That smells good!" he exclaimed.

It did smell good. It tasted good as well, much more than the sum of its parts. The onion and garlic provided a little bite, the carrot some sweetness, and the celery a certain grassiness. Because of the mincing, these flavors all blended to create some new flavor, perfectly balanced.

I let that get a bit caramlized, then added it to the breadcrumbs I had soaked in milk. I was pretty proud of myself that I figured out how to make my own breadcrumbs. I just threw some cubed bread in my little cheapy blender, turned it on high, and presto: breadcrumbs.

Then the pork, beef, egg, celery, bacon, prunes and allspice. Made a loaf and baked it at 350 for like an hour (till it was 155). It turned out wonderful, the subtle sweetness adding depth and the prunes and breadcrumbs adding moisture. Could have made a little gravy with the pan juices, but we were feeling a little WT so we went with ketchup.

You can find the recipe on epicurious (Gourmet February 2008): here

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Breakaway Kofta

I brought the leftovers from this dinner to work on Wednesday. When I put them in the microwave, the smell of star anise and meat wafted through the break room.

"What are you making?" Annette asked. "It smells wonderful!"

"Kofta." I said.

Blank look.

Apparently kofta isn't as well known as I thought. If you look kofta up in Wikipedia, you find it exists in 15 different countries, from the arab world to romania to bangladesh. Always some type of ground meat on a stick, always spicy, usually lamb.

This is another recipe from one of my fave cookbooks, "Breakaway Cook" by Eric Gower (see breakaway chicken). Essentially, it's kofta with ingredients you have in your kitchen. Or maybe that I have in my kitchen because most people don't stock pomegrante molasses and star anise.

It's a shame. They should.

I managed to stop at the grocery store on my way home to buy some ground beef. At 3pm I rolled out of bed and started toasting the star anise and coriander. Then I put them in my spice/coffee grinder. My coffee grinder is kind of crap though. It's not crap for coffee, but star anise doesn't like to grind. I ended up with this mixture that was a little gritty. I pined for a burr grinder and decided it was good enough.

Then I put the spices into a pan with a little butter and olive oil, and added chopped shallots. Eric says red onion, but I didn't have red onion and for some odd reason I had a bag of shallots in my basement. Cooked them till soft, then added a dollop of pomegrante molasses.

This stuff kicks ass. It's a mix of sweet and sour, like tamarind but better. Cooked that a bit. Tasted again and it needed a little salt so added some soy sauce which was perfect.

Then I threw this in with some ground beef and broke in an egg, mushed the whole thing up and made some sausage shaped balls which I tried to skewer. Except it was kind of mushy (maybe too much egg? Maybe the addition of the soy sauce?). No matter. It looked fine. I did make the mistake of trying to put a few of these meatball like things on each skewer though. Don't do this. One per skewer. When I tried to turn them under the broiler they all fell apart.

Oh and I also forgot to soak the skewers so smoke was pouring out of the oven.

Cobe turned on the fan, eyeing me suspiciously.

But in a few minutes I had the kofta spread out on a platter, adorned with mint, and accompanied by toasty warm flat bread, greek yogurt and feta. And you know, a salad and veg because you should always have a salad and veg.

"You've done it again!" said Chris, finishing his first forkful.

The kofta turned out perfectly, the meat was soft and juicy from the addition of the caramelized shallots and perfectly spicy. The greek yogurt and feta were just the right foil. And they were even better the next day, heated up with some feta.

It makes me want to play with ground beef. So many possibilities. Black bean sauce. Chili in adobo. Endless.


Breakaway Kofta
(from Eric Gower's Breakaway Cook)

1 T. whole coriander
2 T. whole star anise
1 t. ground cinnamon
1 T. unsalted butter
1 T. olive oil
1 med red onion minced (1 cup) or 5-6 shallots
1 T. pomegrante molasses
1 - 1/2 # ground beef (or ground lamb or both)
1 egg
mint leaves, chiffonaded

Toast coriander and star anise in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Grind in coffee grinder with cinnamon. Melt butter and olive oil over medium heat, add onion and spices, sautee til soft. Add pomegrante molasses and continue to sautee a few minutes (here is where I added ~1tsp soy sauce).

Place ground meat in bowl, add onion mix and egg, mix well. Make into balls or sausage shape and put on kebabs (remember to soak the kebab sticks first or else smoke will come billowing out of your oven). One meatball per kebab (or else you will not be able to turn them so well). Cook under preheated broiler, ~5 minutes per side until crispy brown. Top with mint. Serve with feta, greek yogurt, and flat bread or pita.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Smoky ancho chili pork stew

This last sunday we went out shopping to southcenter. We were halfway there when I realized I hadn't brought the recipe for the lentil chili I wanted to make.

"Lentil?"said Cobe, "no meat?"

I relented. We were out anyway. "Let's stop by Trader Joes."

I stared at the packages of beef but they just looked so blah. The pork shoulder was calling me. A few peppers, some cilantro. I could make it the same way as Jerry Traunfeld's pork stew, but with mexican spices.

At home I dug out my ancho chilis. I discovered ground ancho chilis this summer when making carne asada. Real chili powder, not that tasteless stuff from the grocery store. I pulled the stems and seeds out of a few and threw them in a coffee grinder, adding some whole cumin and coriander.

"Taste this!" I brought it into Cobe who was just stepping into the shower. Slightly smoky and sweet with this beautiful rich red color. His eyes widened.

I took out the pork and rubbed it with the mix, adding a bit of kosher salt. Then I threw a couple of sweet red peppers under the broiler to char them, letting the skin get black all over. They smelled incredible and at some point they seemed to deflate, giving a little audible sigh. Then I put them in a bag to rest, so the skins would slip off.

I pulled out some fresh tomatoes and dunked them in boiling water so their skins would slip off, then deseeded them as well.

Then I heated up some oil and browned the meat. A bit more complicated with all the spices as it's hard to see it browning. Might have been easier to add the chili after the meat, but then the flavor might change. Hard to say.

When the meat was browned I pulled it out and put in some onions and garlic, letting them cook down, then the peppers and tomatoes. And a little wine. And a can of tomatoes. Then I turned it way down and let the whole thing cook at barely a simmer for 2 hours. At that point the pork was falling-apart-good so I pulled it out and cooked down the sauce for about 5 minutes until it was nice and thick, then added some chopped cilantro.

Beautiful. Usually I feel like chili needs cheese or sour cream to balance it, but this was nice on it's own. Smoky sweet and a little spicy with the freshness of cilantro.

We had the leftover sauce over pasta the next night with a little grated cheese and it tasted perfect....still the flavor of pork and just the essence of chili. It's not too spicy. You might think it was italian. Very dark italian.

Slow cooked pork with ancho chilis and cilantro
(2 people)

1.5 pounds pork shoulder cut into big slabs
tomatoes, either fresh peeled and seeded or canned or both, chopped
(I used 5 fresh and a small can--to peel them dunk in boiling water for ~1minute, then the skins will slip off. Cut them in half to deseed them, pull seeds out with finger or spoon).
2-3 red peppers, charred under broiler and then peeled, seeded and chopped (see above)
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup minced cilantro
1/2 cup red wine
2 dried ancho chilis, pull off stems and deseed
1/2 tsp whole cumin
1/4 tsp whole coriander

Grind ancho chilis in coffee grinder with cumin and coriander. Coat all sides pork. Salt all sides as well (kosher salt). Brown in hot oil a few minutes on each side. Pull out pork, add onions and garlic to pan, cook until limp. Add fresh tomatoes if using and cook a few minutes, then add roasted red peppers, canned tomatoes and wine. Put pork back in pan and turn temperature down to lowest setting, simmer x 2 hours or until pork very tender. Pull out pork. Cook sauce down 5-10 minutes until thick (medium high). Add cilantro and pork, serve.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Cookies that will rock your world

I know. Cookie season is over. I was in the grocery store this morning, driving home from work and there were like 3 people there. I haven't seen that few people in our grocery store since October.

"You should've seen it yesterday," the checkout lady said, "it was crazy. All buying wine and beer and avocados."

A month of cooking and decorating and parties and then it's over. The city feels stark. Like an old woman who's taken off her makeup.

But I have to say. If you ever make another cookie again, you should make the molasses ginger chocolate chip cookies from Orangette. They have this deep molasses flavor infused with crystallized ginger and bittersweet chocolate. All she says they are and more. The snickerdoodles from the food network aren't bad either, but I'm not really a snickerdoodle type of gal. I made them for Jacobe. He loved them. But even he loved the molasses ginger chocolate chip more.

Both recipes are on-line:

molasses ginger chocolate chip

Incidentally, Orangette's blog rocks.