Foodie Tuesday: India Calling

Who needs call centers in India, I ask you. India calls me all the time, without any help from batteries of trained phone service representatives, using only its myriad delicious foods. Works all the time!photoFor a recent sit-down, for example, I was lured by the siren song of Tikka Masala. Too short a lead time for cooking on the occasion meant I’d need to doctor up some ready-made sauce, and there are certainly plenty on the supermarket shelves, so I picked out a jar and took it home to sauce some leftover roasted chicken and serve over leftover chicken broth rice. On tasting, the sauce proved to be a bit insipid and not quite what I had in mind, but it served as a fair base for a good dish with just a few little additions.  A bit of tweaking with cloves, cardamom and cayenne got it going slightly more brightly. A toss of coconut is seldom amiss, so yeah, I threw that on top.

Buttery peas, freshly cooked pappadums and a spoonful of raita rounded out the meal. I was delighted to discover that ready-to-fry pappadums from the grocery could be easily prepared in the microwave, of all things, which made my dinner’s trip over from India just that much shorter, a good thing indeed. Raita is such a grand condiment, jazzing up many a different dish or meal with its cool and refreshing blend of plain yogurt with a few flavor enhancers like, in this instance, finely diced cucumber, dill, fresh mint and a touch of salt and pepper.photoThe leftovers, since the raita was eaten and gone after the first day of this batch of Tikka Masala and there wasn’t a lot of chicken left in it either, got further doctoring. I added some plain yogurt directly to the dish, and a good sprinkling of my favorite homemade curry powder along with some brown mustard and black sesame seeds. I didn’t want to fix or add more chicken at the moment but wanted to expand the dish enough to fill me up, so I thought I’d love some palak paneer alongside. I love that spinach puree with farmer’s cheese in it, but, erm, it’s hard to make when there’s no spinach around. And no actual paneer, either, it turns out. So I took the similarly slow-melting cheese I did have on hand and cubed it directly into the sauce along with the chicken and peas. I’m pretty sure that this iteration of mine departed so far from true Tikka Masala dishes that it would be virtually unrecognized by any real Indian cook (no matter how far the true Indian versions vary, from what I’ve heard), so I guess India can’t be blamed for what I have perpetrated. But then again, the inspiration, the motivation–that’s all India’s fault.photoAnd I, at least, thank her.

Foodie Tuesday: Clean Hands and a Cooked Chicken

 

photoNo fingers must be licked for chicken to be considered notably delectable. Still, being no stickler for any particular sort of manners, I am not averse to slurping at any remnants of good food stuck to my fingers no matter what they are or, possibly, where I am. And I find that some of the appeal of eating chicken is that it lends itself to an enormous range of edible iterations that are a pleasure in the making, in the dining, and in the finger-licking aftermath of it all. Chicken plays such a lovely supporting role to any number of costars among the pantheon of possible flavorings and ingredients that it’s never difficult to imagine yet another wondrous way to enjoy a chicken dish. Add to that the potential for re-imagining the chicken in numerous follow-up dishes if there should happen to be any left over from dinner, and you’ve got one fine, fine companion in the kitchen.photoOur friendly chicken on this occasion, a handsomely fat-breasted creature of purportedly wholly organic origins (and who am I to argue), was gently consigned, in a Dutch oven larded with a generous quantity of sweet pastured butter, and wearing a good dusting of homemade lemon salt and pepper, to lie on a bed of neck and giblets, celery chunks and quartered limes that suspended it above the cupful or so of white wine pooled underneath. The oven, set at about as low a temperature as it could sustain below the mere warming of its interior light could generate, brought the chicken up to moist-cooked interior temperature over a long, slow afternoon before being brought out from under its protective lid for browning under the broiler at the last moment. Not the fast food version of ‘finger-lickin’ good’ but rather a lengthily slow-cooked bit of tenderness that deserves hand-cleaning after the fact all the same.photoThe simple sequel to this supper can come from any number of inspirations. On the latest occasion it was pairing the chicken with some crisp-tender hash browns, along with warming some leftover marinara sauce, butter-cooked mushrooms and herbs together to create a facsimile of Chicken Parmigiana. Rather than create the breaded cutlets in the traditional style, I simply layered the slices of moist chicken next to the potatoes, spooned on some mushroom marinara, sprinkled on some shredded Parmigiano, and melted the cheese just a little to round out its flavor. Far from the heights of authentic Italian culinary art, but let me tell you, it wasn’t hard to eat all the same. Might be having some again soon, since there’s still more of that nice chicken that I cut up and popped in the freezer after roasting it the other day. Of course, I could veer off toward some Tikka Masala . . . or chicken noodle soup . . . or quesadillas con pollo. photo

Foodie Tuesday: I’m Roasting! No, I’m Frying!

 

photoOh, I know, you all thought I was having hot flashes again. [Not that I wasn’t.]

But it’s Food Fun day again, and I’m referring to cooking edibles this time. Old broads still gotta eat.

And since much of the time I am thermostatically challenged myself, I generally try to find ways to make the hot foods I’m preparing require the least possible amount of time putting me in near contact with the oven or cooktop. Why risk further overheating, of either myself or my preparations, should I need to stray far afield from the heated zones of the kitchen.

One fairly easy solution, though it seems somewhat counterintuitive to me, is to roast or fry food. Yes, they’re relatively high heat methods of cookery. But by using them, I can usually evade the stand-and-stir duty: do all of the prep before even turning on the oven, then tuck the food into the would-be fiery furnace, set the temperature and timer, and head off to cooler climes until the alarm sounds for my triumphant return to check and/or finish the dish, and serve and/or eat it. Simple as that.

Roasted beetroot, for example, a nice way to enhance the flavors and textures of a cool late-summer salad, gets cleaned and quartered and then needs nothing more than a small amount of fat and perhaps a tiny bit of seasoning before it pops into the tanning booth. Goat cheese is delicious when lightly coated and shallow-fried, even if like me you’re not quite the culinary artist to present it with perfect Cordon Bleu pizzazz, and it takes no more than a couple of minutes, tops, at the cooker to brown that fine crumb crust.photo

Roasted Beetroot and Goat Cheese Salad

Scrub and quarter a handful of medium-sized beets. (Clean and save the greens and stems.) Toss the beetroot pieces with a little fat (oil or melted butter; I used coconut oil to keep its noticeable flavor to a minimum), salt and pepper and scatter them in or on a baking or roasting pan. Since I was making such a small (2-person) meal, I just made a pseudo-pan out of heavy aluminum foil to keep any juices from dripping around the oven. Roast the roots at 350°F just until tender–10-20 minutes, depending on your oven and the size of the beet pieces.

Meanwhile, pat 1/2-cup batches of cold chèvre (goat cheese) into patties and coat them with coarse almond flour, pressing it in on all sides. Quick-fry these in a little butter in a nonstick pan over medium heat. You can see from my photos that I am far from adept at this part, so mine look less like haute cuisine than like something unearthed at Herculaneum, but I assure you, they taste quite fine.

Using in tandem these two homely yet highly edible items plus a small assortment of others, you can quickly assemble a presentable version of some hotshot chef’s beetroot-and-goat-cheese concoction and your stomach will not be critiquing the view anyhow. My version, this time around, consisted of a few of the tenderer, prettier beet greens pared down to the leaf and laid on the plate, a bit of peeled cucumber slices arranged in a green frame around the rest of the plate, and all topped with the chèvre rounds and roasted roots and a sprig or two of fresh dill. I’m sure that roasting any sweet enough veg or tuber–sweet potato, carrot, pumpkin, parsnip for example–would make a similarly fine complement to the bright, fresh taste of the cheese, which in turn could be substituted for with any nice salty/sour cheese, undoubtedly.

Which of course leads me to another hot-weather or hot-mama advantage of this preparation: the leftovers (if any) lend themselves to innumerable variant cold, cool or room temperature dishes that can be popped out of fridge or freezer next time the climate or one’s overheated innards require such things. Behold tomorrow’s dish: minced beet greens and stems, steamed quickly in the microwave while the beetroot was roasting, and now blended with that remaining diced vegetal goodness, some leftover quinoa, some diced dried apricots, a few pine nuts, a little orange dressing . . . and the beet goes on . . .photo

 

Foodie Tuesday: Fine Dining should be Easy

Among those of us who have the privilege of eating affordably and often, there should be no reason at all for us not to eat well, too. Least of all should we eat mediocre meals for lack of time. Today’s solution: a main dish precooked and finished at top speed at the very last minute, accompanied by super-quick fixes as side dishes. No reason to make it more complicated than it is on its own merits.

photoPrecooked pork tenderloin was in this instance a dainty piece of meat seasoned with salt, pepper and butter, sealed in a vacuum pack and simmered gently in the sous-vide to a tender pink overnight–easy-peasy. If one has the luxury of a sous vide cooker. If not, I think I’d try to do the same in a slow cooker, because that’s the way this chica operates, though there’s no reason I couldn’t also steam it low-and-slow, covered, in the oven.

At suppertime, easiest of all. The tenderloin, removed from its vacuum pack and cut into pieces about 1-1/2 inches in length, is tossed into hot bacon fat along with a handful of sliced almonds and caramelized until lightly crisp on the outside, getting a nice deglazing bath of very dry sherry to moisten at the last and loosen up all of that lovely fond. While the meat is browning and falling into delicate pulled shreds, it’s a moment’s work to fix the side dishes.

photo

It all goes down a treat with a glass of very cold Viognier jazzed up with a dash of Limoncello. Salut!

 

Green beans slicked with a little clarified browned butter, and my standby creamy ginger coleslaw, go pretty well with sherried pork tenderloin and almonds, as it turns out. Once it came to the end of the meal, I wasn’t exactly dessert-starved, but given this time of the season it would almost be a crime not to have a prime piece of fruit. A pear, silky and sweet as syrup but a whole lot juicier and more fulfilling, is dessert in the loveliest of ways. Hope I have another pear handy for breakfast, though . . . another good meal should always lie ahead . . . photo

Foodie Tuesday: Even a Classic can Take Plenty of Twists and Turns

Being a fairly dedicated eater and happy to grab my utensils in the blink of an eye almost without regard to what’s on offer, I still do enjoy the familiar and comfortable on my menu too. There are occasions when I just plain crave the known and cozy to fill my plate and my empty stomach. Sometimes nothing will do but the good old-fashioned classic.photoSo when I’ve made a batch of roasted vegetables that I can pop onto the platter at a number of meals in the next few days, it can be nice to tuck it alongside a variety of things while it lasts, just to keep things interesting. However, having some of those many different entrees be lovely old-school stuff doesn’t in any way diminish the range and color of what I’m going to eat. That just makes it doubly fun to puzzle together the menus that, despite a repeating item and a well-known dish, still easily keep their sense of invention and surprise enough to brighten up both the day and the meal.

One obvious way to accomplish that is to introduce minor tweaks: ingredient combination, presentation, and so forth. The simple roast beef from last week gets thoroughly sliced and diced and then piled into buttery grilled french rolls, and finally, dipped in a dense jus reduction of roast drippings, butter and a big slosh of red wine, and served with a touch of horseradish cream (softened with sour cream) alongside side for enhancing either the beef dip sandwich or the roasted vegetables on the way down the hatch.photoA different day, a different tweaked standard: macaroni salad with bacon and eggs. Not sure I’d recommend one of this latest round of tweaks–I tried it with rice pasta (the gluten-free twist on the occasion), which was just dandy when the salad was first made, but in the refrigerated leftover salad soaked up the dressing so thoroughly that the pasta tasted pretty much just like cold rice later. It wasn’t hopeless: I added more dressing each time I went back to it, and I found that it rehydrated decently. But it wasn’t as stable in that aspect as traditional pasta, which I think I’ll still prefer in the long term. The other slight variations, however, I enjoyed very much, and by the way, so did all the others at dinner.photoMacaroni Salad with Bacon and Eggs

Cooked [elbow macaroni–still my favorite for macaroni salad] pasta gets dressed simply with mayonnaise, a good squirt of cartoon-yellow mustard, and cream. A sturdy grind of black pepper gives it a hint of depth, though it’d be great with a splash of hot sauce or a sprinkling of cayenne as well. A big handful of diced pickles playfully zings things up a little; I used half dill pickles and half sweet gherkins. You know me and my sweet-plus-salty fetish. Traditionalists would of course hard boil egg and mince or sieve it before adding it to a picnic salad. Me, I just semi-scrambled the egg until it was just fully set and minced it up. Pretty much the same result, with less time and effort. Lastly, fried up a whole lot of bacon into crispy, smoky pieces.

The end product? About like what you’d expect if waiters carrying platters of the familiar summer macaroni salad and of pasta Carbonara crashed into each other and fell into a breakfast buffet table. But involving a lot less flying cutlery and cussing. Unless you count people diving after the salad avidly waving their forks and yelling, Damn, that’s good! Not that anyone at my table would ever behave in such a reckless and uncouth manner. Well, me, maybe.