Dainty’s Concocted Curry

April 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Several weeks ago I attempted my first-ever Indian-spiced meal. Cauliflower masala. Turned out pretty well—read about it HERE. That was then followed by a chana bateta from the Brooklyn Eats blogger, not blogged about here but really tasty. That one includes potatoes in a homemade tomato-based curry. From those two recipes I figured if you have some mustard seeds, cumin, coriander and a touch of heat—and a whole bunch of other stuff—you can whip up a curry.

Last night’s meal is what I’m calling Dainty’s Concocted Curry. I had 2/3 cup of coconut milk I needed to finish off, and I didn’t have all the ingredients for either of the above recipes, so I kinda/sorta combined the two. Believe me, it can be tweaked here and there, especially in the heat department. But I’m pretty proud that I even attempted getting jiggy with these East Asian flavors.

Dainty’s Concocted Curry

Dainty's Concocted Curry

Dainty's Concocted Curry over roasted broccoli, marinated baked tofu and brown rice

2 shallots, thinly sliced

3-ish garlic cloves, minced

0.5-1.0 TBS grated ginger

1-2 TBS oil (I always use olive but you can use canola)

1 tsp mustard seed

1.5-2 tsp cumin

2 tsp coriander

0.5-0.75 tsp cayenne (Would have added a touch more if we had it.)

1 tsp tumeric

couple pinches fenugreek

1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes

2 big dollops of tomato paste

2/3 cup coconut milk

salt and pepper

-Heat oil in a fairly deep fry pan, medium heat. Add shallots and garlic. Move ’em about in the pan now and then and you’re looking for them to be a bit translucent or, better yet, wilted. At this point I just grate the ginger right on top of that, guesstimating a tablespoon’s worth.

-While this is happening, put the mustard seeds in a small skillet with a slight amount of oil and heat on med-high. Cover! These seeds will start popping when they are ready – not long, about 3 minutes.

-When shallots/onions/ginger are done, add mustard seeds and all the spices to the mix. Stir about – it’ll be kinda pasty. You just want to get some heat on them to begin releasing their aromas. Doesn’t take long – a minute or two.

-Now, this can of whole tomatoes—one recipe called for one diced tomato, the other for a 14 oz can diced tomatoes. Other than a handful of cherry tomatoes, all I had was this 28 oz can of whole tomatoes. Open the can, reach on in there and grab one or two tomatoes, hold it over the pan and squeeze—carefully, otherwise it’ll squish tomato juice all over you. Do this for the entire can, then add the juice. And also add the tomato paste‚—that’ll help thicken it. Add coconut milk and stir. Give it a taste and see if you need to add salt or anything extra. Since I added way more tomatoes than I needed, I gave the mix a few extra shakes of all the spices except the cayenne (no more left) and the mustard seeds. Bring to just about boiling, then turn down to simmer and thicken. We had this on low while our brown rice was cooking for 45 minutes. Stir now and then and check up on it.

We’re pretty much done at this point. We did a take-out sorta thing with this when it came to assembling the meal. I roasted some broccoli and also baked some marinated sliced tofu. We put a big spoonful of brown rice in a salad-sized bowl, added some of the broccoli and a few tofu slabs, and then spooned the curry on top. Not too bad, I have to say.

You? You can add some cubed potatoes (as in one of the original recipes) and let those cook away while the curry is simmering. Or, maybe add some mushrooms. Maybe some stir-fried chicken. Steamed veggies. It’s a curry, and you can use it to add a little East Asian flair to your Wednesday evenings without leaving the house.

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Bread Cracking in the Oven—Solved!

March 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Last summer I discovered the joys of bread baking. I guess you’d call it my hobby now. And I say hobby because … well, unlike putting a Pop Tart in the toaster and waiting for the ding, there are levels of complexity at every step. There’s practice and skill and problem-solving and continual learning from mistakes. Described that way, it seems more like a sport. And, considering  I currently have three different sourdough ferments tucked snuggly in the warm and draft-free microwave, perhaps I’m also a collector.

Yesterday, I had one of those “Aha!” learning experiences. I made a batch of Country Sourdough from the Amy’s Bread cookbook. It was my first time making this recipe and considering my firm levain wasn’t so firm and I substituted in my sourdough starter, I wasn’t so sure the recipe would work properly.

I made the dough, let it autolyze, formed it into a ball, let it rise, punched it down, let it rise again, separated into two doughs, formed boules and let them rise again – seam side down – in floured baskets. The dough looked and felt great. So far, so good.

Now, in Amy’s instructions, typically once you get to this point in the recipe it’s almost as if they copied and pasted the remainder of the instructions for each and every recipe. At least for the handful of recipes I’ve tackled so far. BUT, this time she had a slightly different twist in the instructions. She said to tip the boule out of the basket onto the prepared parchment paper so the seam was now on top. Hmmm … I had not encountered that in previous recipes. All others were seam side down. Why would you put the seam up?

I had two boules – I thought, “Let’s try one seam side up, one seam side down, and see what happens. I scored both loaves on top, put them in the oven, and let them go.

Here’s what came out of the oven. Can you guess which one was which?

sourdough boule

Seam side up on the left, seam side down on the right.

The one on the right was the seam-side down. Even though I scored the top, the steam escaping the loaf escaped through the seam on the bottom, causing it to tear.

For the boule on the left, the scores through the seam on top let the steam escape. Not having a weak spot—a seam on the bottom—prevented the bottom from bursting.

I tried to seal that seam as tightly as possible, but apparently not enough. This doesn’t happen with all of the breads I’ve made, but I have had this happen before. And now I know why. Problem solved.

Lentil Soup with Spinach

March 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

It turns out—now that we are paying attention—a number of our on-hand recipes are vegan. While it’s nice to cruise online looking for appropriate recipes for our new two-thirds vegan lifestyle, we need only turn to our own recipe collection to find something without meat, fish, dairy, etc.

Jennifer’s Red Lentil Soup with Spinach, for example. She collected this recipe from a local adult-ed class on soup making she attended 10-15 years ago. She just recently found it again, after I had made a batch of the Moosewood lentil soup. Lentils are pretty friggin’ amazing, if you ask me. It’s my favorite dry bean, if only because you don’t have to soak it any more than 30 minutes, which you can easily incorporate into the cooking process (see below). The addition of the spinach is inspired, tasty and I am sure, good for you, as well.

Ingredients

  • 1-2 TBS evoo
  • 1 onion
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 cup red lentils, rinsed (I guess green would be fine, too)
  • 4-5 cups water
  • 1/2 tsp EACH of thyme, oregano, basil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 lb. spinach or Swiss chard, torn into pieces

-Saute the onion in the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots and celery and saute another few minutes until just soft.

-Add the herbs, lentils and 4 cups of the water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 30-40 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking on the bottom. If it’s too thick for your liking, add up to a cup of water.

-When lentils are soft, add the salt and spinach. Stir. Cook for another 2 minutes.

Jennifer likes to add a swirl of sherry vinegar on top of her bowl of soup. I add a dash of balsamic vinegar. Try it without the vinegar first, then with the vinegar. The addition really pulls out the flavor of the lentils and adds an acidic brightness. You’ll also want to keep a slice or two of fresh bread on hand for dunking.

You may want to double the batch. This soup is even better in subsequent days, and is nice as your vegan lunch dish.

Half Whole Wheat Bread

January 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

It’s about time I bake some bread, wouldn’t you say?

It’s a lazy-dozen days into the Year of Ellen Baking and flour hasn’t yet been sprinkled on the kitchen counter. I rolled out of bed this morning and decided to remedy that. Measuring cups and the mixer were in use within 15 minutes of my alarm going off.

It’s not like I have a lot of time to make bread today. The pile of work on my desktop is pretty steep. Making a poolish (a dough starter) and then going through the hours of rising and deflating and proofing and on and on – the protocols for my most flavorful breads – just isn’t in the day’s agenda.

Luckily, I have a quick, one-rise recipe I keep in my back pocket and pull out when time is tight. I found the recipe at Principia Gastronomica last summer. Easy enough to remember. Easy enough to prepare. Easy enough to adjust.

Here’s the ingredient list:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 tsp fast-acting/instant yeast add straight to the flour (I increase by 1/3 tsp – not sure why but it works!)
  • 2 tsp salt (I use kosher)
  • About a cup of warm water (your finger should feel comfy when inserted into it)

The thing I like about this recipe is that the blogger had suggested to add whatever proportion of flours you wish – all white, half white/half wheat, some spelt – whatever. Just make it 3 cups flour. Baking isn’t known for it’s flexibility; quite the opposite in fact. I like the freedom to try my own thing.

I vacillate between a strict 50/50 white-whole wheat ratio and one where I use 1.75 cups of whole wheat (King Arthur Flour’s whole wheat, which is on the fine side of wheat flours). Today’s bread is the latter.

Don’t have time to make bread in the morning? Dainty Dot does it this way:

  • Mix flour(s), yeast, salt in bowl of Kitchen-Aid mixer. Attach a paddle (oiled with Pam or something like that) and secure bowl to mixer.
tools for bread baking

My must-have tools for bread baking

  • While mixer is on low, add about a cup of warm water. When dough becomes shaggy (less than a minute), stop mixer, take off paddle (clean off dough that sticks and put back in bowl) and attach oiled (with Pam etc) dough hook.

Less than a minute after adding warm water to the dry ingredients, the mixture becomes a shaggy mass.

  • Why I oil paddle/hook: Makes it easier to clean dough off paddle, and helps prevent dough from creeping up to top of hook. Alton Brown’s suggestion, not my own genius, unfortunately.
  • With hook now on, turn mixer of medium low. Let the hook and dough do their thing. IF the dough is looking a tad dry – if it looks like that dryness would hurt if you were a lump of developing dough – I add squigges of warm water ’til it softens up a bit.
  • If dough does creep up the hook, stop the mixer and adjust dough downward.
  • After about 5 minutes, the dough should look like it’s swollen just a tad and look a bit like a soft baby’s bum. At this point, take out the dough and put into an oiled (or Pammed) bowl. I like to put my in a large (2 quart-sized) plastic measurer with markings. That way you can tell how much the dough has risen. Next, cover the container with plastic wrap. Put in a warm draft-free space.
Dough

Dough ready to rise.

  • Warm? In January? I’m a frugal gal myself. My house is nowhere above 68F at any time between August and June. How the heck do I find a warm space that’ll make my baby snuggly and happy? Here’s the trick: Boil a cup of water in the microwave. Put the dough bowl in the microwave with the just-boiled water. Close door. You’ll have a warmish space for the next hour or so as the water releases heat as it cools down.
  • The original recipe says to let the dough rise an hour or so. I take mine a but further – up to two hours. The dough is likely to double in that time.
risen dough

D'oh! It's doubled!

  • Spill the somewhat-puffy dough onto a lightly floured surface. The light pull of your hands on the dough coaxing it out of the container is pretty much enough handling to count toward a light “punch down.” You don’t want to let too much of that air out – this is a one-rise dough, after all.
  • Actually, you can even skip the “lightly floured surface.” Why? This is a dry dough – a quick dip of your fingertips in some flour is more than enough to prevent the dough from sticking to your fingers. And, in this next step you actually want the tackiness of your surface to work in your favor.
  • Pull in all sides of the dough into the middle of a round ball. Try your best to pinch them all into one spot. Top should be a smooth rounded surface, and the bottom should look like puckered lips.

Pull in all the side of the mass of dough into the center and try to pinch together. I admit, I pinched one more time after this photo.

  • Next, put the ball bottom side down. Put both hands on either side of the ball, cupping it from the top, and rotate the ball under your hands – kinda pushing up with your left while pulling down with your right. The tackiness of a flourless work surface pulls the dough taut. And, it helps in drawing in those “puckered lips” and sealing it closed as best as possible. Do the push-me, pull-you thing about 10-20 times. When the “skin” of the ball starts to pull very very tight, STOP!

Pushing/pulling the dough in a clockwise direction seals the dough together on its bottom. Pretty cool!

  • Put the dough ball on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper that has been lightly sprinkled with corn meal. Cover with that plastic wrap you used previously (waste not, want not, right?). Let it sit while the oven warms up to about 420F (recipe says 425F but my oven runs a bit hot). In fact, I’ll let it sit for up to 1/2 hour.

The dough sits for up to a half hour before heading into the oven.

  • Five minutes before you’re ready to put the dough into the oven, throw in some ice cubes. This creates steam, and a humid, steamy oven helps create a nice crunchy crust.
  • Right before inserting the dough into the oven do these two things: 1) slash the top of the dough lightly with a quick movement. This slashing will help prevent the crust from breaking haphazardly elsewhere as the dough expands. The dough is gonna split regardless – pre-slashing is like a controlled split. 2) Spritz the loaf 4-5 times with a water spritzer-thingy. Again, this helps create a crunchy crust. But I don’t go crazy trying to control the crust, not like I would if I were making French bread or a sourdough. This is a quick-and-easy bread recipe – the crust is what it is. I’m good with that.

Slash!

  • The recipe calls for the bread to bake about 40 minutes. Because my oven runs a bit hot, I take it to 35 minutes and then check its status. Check for doneness by thumping your thumb against the bottom of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it’s time to set it free from the oven. What’s a hollow loaf of bread sound like? Good question. And I suggest you take a loaf out at 30 minutes, give it a good thump, and remember what that sounds like, and then keep comparing thumps every couple of minutes. Eventually the bread will be done and you’ll note the difference in sound. Well, that’s how I did it, anyway.
  • Let it sit on a cooling rack for a while so it can finish cooking completely inside. If you can keep your hands off it, that is.

Using this recipe, I made a loaf of half-whole wheat bread 5.5 inches wide and weighing approximately 1 lb. 6.5 oz. in less than 4 hours. Fresh. Bread. Fast. Yum.

From flour to bread in under four hours - ya! And with minimal hands-on work, too.

Linguine with Clam Sauce: The Payoff

January 4, 2011 § 1 Comment

Clamming Part II.

This is the best part. This is when the clams go from mollusk-stuffed rocks to dinner in no time at all. This is the kind of 30-minute meal I’m talkin’ about, sista. Step aside, Rach. Ellen’s makin’ dinner.

Actually, Jennifer and Ellen are making dinner. Okay, okay … Jennifer’s making dinner, I’m sous-cheffing.

Here’s the play-by-play:

Large pot, filled with water, add handfuls of kosher salt until it “tastes like the sea,” as Giada would say. High heat. When it boils, throw in a pound of linguine – you know the drill. Keep an eye on doneness while you’re prepping the rest. Cook until nearly done, then just turn off the heat and let it coast in. When clams are nearly done, drain the linguine. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water to add back into the pasta if you wish.

Two or three big fat cloves of garlic, smacked and minced go into a saute pan with EVOO, a tbs or two. Throw in a fresh anchovy fillet (or two for good luck). Medium heat ’til the anchovy melts and it smells like Italian heaven.

Add a half cup-ish dry white wine. Nothing you wouldn’t drink yourself, but I’m not talking a Dog Point sauvignon blanc here. We used a Sevillon/Chardonnay blend that is on the I-wouldn’t-chuck-it-down-the-sink side.

Clam juice – that’s right, we’re adding clam juice to clam sauce. Like adding chicken stock to something. Just a touch of added flavor. Let that come together for a bit. It’ll boil more quickly than you think.

Simmah time. Mmmmm. We’re half-way there, folks.

Now’s the time that some will get squeamish. It’s ok, really – the clams are destined for a greater purpose at this point. We had about 30 clams. Only about 10 at a time fit in the pan. Throw ’em in, cover, and wait for the little guys to give it up. It takes between four to six minutes, depending on size. We had some big clams that took quite a bit of time. And, something I never knew – when the clams open, it’s not like it’s a slow-motion death yawn. There’s a definite rumbling in the dying clam’s vicinity, and then a sudden “pop” – the pearly treasure reveals itself. I’m exaggerating with the pearl comparison, of course.

When they open, take them out of the “juice” and pry out the meat. Reserve shells (for fumé). Add next batch to pan, and so on until they’re all cooked and open.

We’re almost there.

Mince your clams. Add back to the saute pan – which now magically has way more liquid in it from the clams – and let them heat up again. Add in your pasta. Mix until amazing.

Serve up, garnish with fresh chopped flat parsley – never, never the curly stuff. (By the way, we added parsley we harvested from our garden back in November. Man, that stuff keeps when prepared properly. Fresh garden parsley in January, yo.)

Eat. Try not to slop it all over yourself. That may be the hardest part of this whole experience.

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