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Nigella Express

victoria  —  October 8, 2007 — Leave a comment

My bad habits aside, I did watch the premiere episode of Nigella’s new show. I wasn’t disappointed but I wasn’t overwhelmed either.

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Okay. That was twee even by my skewed standards, but alas I cannot resist the kitsch.

I have finally seen the other side of whatever germs Keifel brought home last week and am back on schedule. Tomorrow in my class, where I am actually teaching cooking not just restaurant management, we are covering spices and making chili, my dad’s chili to be exact, and some pumpkin curry. The chili doesn’t actually have that many spices in, it being kind of purist, comparatively.

The pumpkin curry had a dry run and I have a few words of advice to go along. Use only starchy not waxy spuds. They need to soften into the curry to be good. Also get a pie pumpkin of some size because once you get the stem and the seeds and the peel off… there isn’t much left if it’s a teeny one and they can be stringy if they are too small. Trust me on this one.

Pumpkin Curry

1 pound pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes (halve, scoop and nuke 2-3 minutes to soften to peel)
1/8 cup tightly packed dried tamarind pods
1 cup very hot water
3 tablespoons oil
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
¼ teaspoon mustard seeds
¼ teaspoon fenugreek seeds
¼ teaspoon nigella or onion seeds
¼ teaspoon aniseed
3 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 teaspoon chili powder
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon sugar
salt to taste

Wash the pumpkin cubes and drain well. Soak the tamarind pods in the hot water for 10-15 minutes. Remove the pods, reserving the liquid, and extract the pulp by mashing in a bowl with the back of a spoon. Strain to remove seeds and string.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek, nigella seeds, and aniseed and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the potato chunks and sauté for 2-3 minutes. Add the pumpkin cubes, stir well and sauté for 4-5 minutes.

Stir in the chili powder, turmeric, coriander, sugar and salt to taste, and continue cooking for 5-6 minutes. Add the tamarind pulp and some of the reserved liquid, to taste, then cover and cook until the potatoes are tender.

Note: If dried tamarind pods or pulp are not available, substitute 1 tablespoon molasses and 3 tablespoons lime juice mixed together.

Having nothing to say and no words.

Classes at the Pannery and Swedish Chefs have been going apace. I’m relatively happy but confused by my restlessness. I got an adjunct position for the fall (Yay!). But I don’t have much to say. It seems like the more I cook for others out in the big world the less I want to do anything at home involving food, which seems to include the blog of late.

Franka at Can Cook Must Cook seems to be having the same problem and as she gets paid to write, it is somewhat comforting. I thought I would have all manner of exciting things to talk about in our farm share CSA box but it has been so hot and dry this summer the pickings have been very slim and even I can’t eat two gallon bags of bitter greens a week or find something to make them interesting enough for me to eat by myself. Although the pie I made was tasty, Keifel and the Julian didn’t like it because they don’t like greens. I did make a Caprese salad with some of our tomatoes that was amazing. Love, love, love the fresh mozzarella and not having to actually cook anything when it is 100+ outside.

Victoria’s Greens, Lotsa Greens Pie
1 recipe for a double crust pie (especially the one made with oil from the 1940s Good Housekeeping)
a good glug of olive oil
1 small onion chopped fine
3 or 4 smashed cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 leftover raw bison burger pattie
Salt and pepper to taste
2 gallon bags of mixed bitter greens, washed and thick stems removed
1 tablespoon flour
a good glug of balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup left over white wine, chicken stock or water
Handful of grated Parmesan, Grana Padano, Feta or what have you
1 large very ripe tomato
1 egg

Make the pie crust and line a round stone baker (mine came from Pampered Chef) with a little more than half the pie crust. You could also use a relatively deep pie plate.

In a very large sauté heat the olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic until the onions are translucent, add the red pepper and sauté another 20 seconds. Crumble in the bison burger and season the mixture with salt and pepper; cook until browned. Add the greens and sauté down until all is wilted but still fairly green. Sprinkle over the flour and cook for 1 minute stirring to mix in. Add the vinegar and wine or chicken stock or water and cook just until the juices thicken a little.

Allow mixture to cool for 5-10 minutes. Stir in the cheese and fill the pastry-lined baker with the greens mixture. Seed and slice the tomato fairly thinly and lay over the filling. Top with remaining pastry and crimp the edges together and make three or four slits in the top for steam. Make an egg wash with the egg and 1 tablespoon of water whisked together. Brush over the top crust to help it brown. Bake for 30-45 minutes at 375 degrees until golden brown. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before serving. Refrigerate any leftovers and eat cold or reheat for 25-45 seconds in the microwave (though the crust will go a little soft).

I suspect this is true of most writers, whatever the medium. And though I am tentative of calling myself a writer as I do believe that “writers write” and, let’s be honest, I haven’t been doing much of that of late. I have embarked upon what could be a long project within the confines of my chosen professions and am hopeful that it will be the thing to prime the pump and get the things that have languished in drawers and the deep memory of this and previous computers out into the light of day again. I doubt, at this point, that I will ever return to writing poetry. There seems to have been some fundamental shift in how I view the world and in how I want to talk about it and poetry isn’t the form that comes to mind when I do sit down with a pen or a keyboard. I am a little sad about it and still fond (unbelievable, I know) of poems that I have written in the past. They do, however, feel very past and that brings me to my current project.

What started all of this today was puttering around my kitchen making coffee this morning. I would like to say that I do that every day as well, but lately I have been out the door before I had time to make the coffee and I am out of filters for the Chemex, my preferred caffeine delivery system, which requires a special trip to Hillsboro village and the one shop in Nashville that stocks the filters.

This morning it was raining. And what a wonderful thing that is. Our CSA box has been skinny with the heat and the drought and to know that rain is falling all over the mid-state makes me very happy. It also made me want to sleep in and putter this morning. Hence the digging out of the French press which was my one-time favorite and is now kept for Ms. Janet’s visits and caffeine emergencies. I filled the grinder with beans and changed the setting for the coarser grind, put the kettle on to boil and read a few pages of The Bee Keeper’s Apprentice. I had forgotten how very satisfying the ritual of the French press can be and seemed to enjoy my coffee just a bit more this morning.

In the midst of all this, it occurred to me yet again how much I enjoy the very simplest things about my new kitchen and our new house. There is, most of all, room to putter which compared to the increasingly claustrophobic confines of the duplex is remarkable all by itself. But the thing that makes me most content is the light. Even on a rainy morning, I don’t need to turn on the overhead light, there is plenty from the windows and that lack of artificial light makes everything seem quieter. The quiet of watery sunlight and the sound of my own feet padding about on a softly worn wooden floor, that to me is a small slice of paradise, marred, sadly, by the absence of the boychild and the husband. I am not knocking solitude by any means and I do welcome it, but this morning I missed them both.

All of that, which I suppose are really small things, lead me here to write something, anything, before leaving to run errands and make preparations for my cooking class at the Pannery this evening. So perhaps, it is not a far fetched thing for me to at least refer to myself in my own mind as a writer, as long as that impulse has the power to intrude on the previously ordered events of a day.

And on a completely different note, I will leave you with one of last night’s recipes from my Cooking with Herbs, Oils and Vinegars class in the ‘boro.

Sesame-Raisin Vinaigrette
adapted from Crescent Dragonwagon’s Soup and Bread

½ cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup dark raisins
¼ cup sesame seeds, toasted
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup peanut oil
¼ cup toasted (dark) sesame oil

Place all ingredients, except the oils, in the blender and buzz until the raisins are chopped to a dark paste. With the measure cup in the lid out out, allow machine to run and slowly drizzle in both the oils, allowing the vinaigrette to emulsify. The vinaigrette will keep well in the fridge for a couple weeks, if it lasts that long. It is also good added to the mayo for chicken salad or as a sandwich spread, especially with club-type sandwiches. If it separates on standing, give the jar — tighly-lidded of course — a good shake, or if it thickens too much in the fridge, thin it with a little more vinegar.

*Sometimes you also need to edit, girl. There were some bad, bad grammar/agreement type problems. I do know better than to hit publish on a first draft… laziness.

CSA box goodies, part 1

victoria  —  May 24, 2007 — 1 Comment

It has taken me until Thursday, I know, but well. We were in Atlanta over the weekend and then I had the flu, or some brief horrible thing that acted as if it might be the flu and, well, it is difficult to cook when one feels as though one’s large muscle groups are be wrung out like a wet dishrag. So, tonight we really got down to the goodies in the box.

Our share for the week consisted of one dozen free-range eggs varying in size from teeny to Jumbo, a dozen radishes, a dozen large spring onions, a gallon bag of mesclun, a gallon bag of collards, and a gallon bag of kale. I nibbled on the mesclun all week. But tonight was the first night we cooked anything from the box. We had two pork tenderloins we’d cooked earlier that Keifel sliced up and stewed briefly just to reheat. I’d rubbed it with a mix of smoked paprika, coriander and cumin before roasting it.

While he worked on the protein, I frenched (doesn’t that sound salacious?) an onion and sautéed it in some olive oil with three fat cloves of garlic, chopped fine, until the onions were translucent. I sprinkled over about a half teaspoon of salt and deglazed the small bit of browned goodness with some white wine. I put the kale in first and let it wilt down enough to add the collards and let both wilt down enough to stir. Then just let it cook until it was still a pretty, bright green and tender. I hate bitter greens cooked to mush, but I also hate chewy collards. These were young and tender enough that you could almost eat them pleasantly raw, but not quite.

Sautéed onions and kale waiting for their close up before the collards join the party

I will be better next week about actually taking a picture of what comes in the box. Or at least I’ll try.

In order to thoroughly warm our new casa, we had a Cinco de Mayo housewarming/Vic’s culinary school graduation party. We knew we wanted to have the party about a month after we moved and we wanted it to be on Saturday, and it turned out May 5th was the first Saturday in May. My love of themed menus took over and ta da, Cinco de Mayo housewarming party. We were very lucky that my mom stayed on a week after the move. Unpacking in such a short time would definitely not have happened without her and without CSG and J helping me unpack the kitchen that first night.

To celebrate our new digs and the fabulous friends we have, I planned a vegetarian-friendly with carnivorous option menu:

Sugar and spice peanuts
Jícama salad
Green, white and red salsas (tomatillo, chayote with honeydew, and pico)
A giant corn pudding with roasted pablano peppers and serrano ham
Saffron and black bean tamales
BBQ chicken tamales with chipotle crema
Roasted squash salad with green beans
Goat cheese and chorizo quesadillas with carmelized onions
Chocolate and pepita shortbread
Almond cinnamon cookies
Dulce de leche cake
A store-bought case of Jarritos sodas in various flavors like tamarind, mango and guava
Friends also brought lots of Mexican beer and lawn chairs to warm up our back yard

Friends from culinary school came and brought goodies as well. M brought a slow cooked pork shoulder and spicy cornbread, both of which were amazing and disappeared quickly. I know Keifel and The Carpenter were really happy to see the pork shoulder.

It appeared a good time was had by all, our house felt absolutely toasty after being warmed by friends near and far. And though I was feeling all over protective of my shiny new floors, clean up was a snap the next day, even outside. We still have two bags of tamales in the freezer and I keep finding little bits of leftovers in the fridge. I haven’t quite perfected the art of not over cooking. In fact, I was still worrying there wouldn’t be enough food right up until people were arriving. Silly me.

Chayote Salsa (adapted from Mark Miller’s Great Salsa Book)
1 chayote squash, peeled and diced
3/4 cup, about 1/4 of a large, honeydew melon, diced
3/4 cup fennel bulb, diced
2 teaspoons fennel frond, chopped
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
juice of two limes
pinch of sugar
salt to taste

Combine everything in a non-reactive bowl and chill until ready to serve. This is especially good as an accompaniment for fish but was interesting just with chips. The original recipe also called for some heat in the form of green habanero chile sauce. That or a fresh pepper of your preferred heat would be good. I needed a mild to nothing salsa to go with medium and scorcher salsas.

Goat cheese and chorizo quesdillas waiting for the corn pudding to appear on the hot pad next door

Jicama salad with spicy peanuts in the background

Roasted squash salad with a corner of the salsas peeking in

Guacamole in my molcajete (say that three times fast)

Blurry green, white and red salsas… I need to work on this photography thing

Blurry cookies as well, erm. Hrmph.

Ah, we have been eating well at Foodieporn HQ. I’ve been planning out the weekly menus, recipes from clippings or cookbooks I’ve wanted to try with some old favorites thrown in. On Saturday, after the Earth Day festivities, we had J & J over for some Mexican soup from the newish Ina Garten. It was pretty good. I skipped the fried corn tortillas in favor of fried flour ones and swapped out the crushed tomatoes for some fire-roasted Muir Glen chopped tomatoes. They are probably one of my favorite things to have in the kitchen. They make soups taste amazingly good and are a great base for a smoky salsa when tomatoes are out of season and only the scariest of pink plastic tomatoes are available.

My classes at W-S have been heavily spring veg oriented and I have gleaned some recipes for my own repetoire. Last night we made a really good “rustic” pasta dish with broken wide lasagna noodles, grilled zucchini ribbons, baby arugula and some good olive oil and light tomato sauce. It looks beautiful on the platter and tastes incredible. I have now been dreaming up all kinds of things to do with grilled zucchini and eggplant and whatever else I can think to grill. We are really hoping to get the charcoal grill soon. Mostly so I can play grill cook outside. Grilled peaches, grilled pineapple, grilled corn on the cob… I tried grilled tofu once but unless you have absolutely pristine charcoal with no quick light fluid of any sort, it winds up tasting of gasoline fumes as it absorbs everything that comes in contact with it. Tofu is better left to indoor cookery.

I am trying to get all my ducks in a row for when the classes in Murfreesboro start. I want to have my first three lectures, at least, written by this weekend. As I am wont to do, I think I have gone a little overboard in what can logistically be absorbed in one sitting by a non-food geekery obsessed person, so I will inevitably need to scale back. Yes there are myriad types of herbs that have fallen by the wayside, but, unless it is an especially fascinating tidbit of trivia, do most people really care about things like sweet woodruff and chervil? I am guessing no, but it you signed up for an herb cookery class wouldn’t that by definition mean you are interested in them? See, this is my dilemma.

I am also putting the final touches on the housewarming party menu. Authentic(ish) Mexican, tamales and what not. But I do tend to assign myself the labor intensive and will have to start cooking over the weekend as well.

Instead I have been pounding the virtual pavement looking for a day job to tide me over until things pick up in my culinary life. My new classes at the Pannery don’t begin until April and my gig at school evaporated. I do have a non-cooking job as a stop gap as of yesterday. I’ll be an exam scorer for a company here in town. Should be interesting.

While I was looking for at least semi-gainful employ, I plotted out the Oscar Extravaganza menu with my partner in crime and the husband put together an invitation that was suitably glamorous. The menu sounds worthy of Hollywood party but with some fun twists. It is also a little pricey but I think we will manage as I have become the priestess of quality on the cheap (thanks to Nashville’s burgeoning immigrant population and the bodegas and markets which supply them their foodstuffs).

We are planning on the following, of course the chef, cough, reserves the right to make substitutions depending on availability and cash flow:

A Victoria Cheese Display with accompaniments including home made fig salami
Beef Tenderloin with home made rolls and gorgonzola sauce
Smoked salmon and Trout with accompaniments
Salad Cups with Champagne Vinaigrette
Bagna Cauda with veg
Blini with (domestic!) caviar
Asparagus with proscuitto
Paté en croute
Parmesan popcorn
Spiced cocktail nuts
Mini lemon cheesecakes
Decadent brownies

Technically, I have already begun cooking because the fig salami takes about three weeks to cure. I found the recipe for it in a teeny book on the Italian institution of the enoteca (wine bar). It’s pretty much ground up figs and walnuts moistened with white wine, anise liqueur and balsamic vinegar then allowed to dry into a sliceable salami shape. If it tastes as good as the mixture did before forming and wrapping, it will be fabulous. But, I love figs in any form so there might be a bit of a bias. We will of course take pictures at the event (if one of us remembers) and post all the glorious (or gory) details.

Now to rustle up some lunch.

We are not vegans, Keifel and I. In fact, I think Keifel would live on meat if I allowed such a thing. I am a lapsed vegetarian mostly due to living with a dedicated carnivore. I still avoid the cow. But I cooked primarily vegetarian food for a number of years and we still eat many veg-centered meals. My dear friend, the Divine Miss M, recently turned the big 40 and I had the opportunity to make a completely vegan spread for about 30 people.

I came up with three menu ideas for Miss M and let her choose. One was kind of a Central American themed buffet with tamales and devilled squashes. The second was a Spanish tapas menu with an emphasis on winter warmer veg. The third was a pan-Asian nibbles spread with lots of rolled and stuffed things and some delicious sauces. Miss M chose the Asian menu. Yay!

I loved the idea of the challenge of making an entirely vegan menu. For me it was important, having just spent two years in culinary school and a lifetime of being a food geek girl, that everything taste amazing and that those who were there who weren’t vegan or even necessarily vegetarian would love the food and feel fed. I hate when vegetarians get stuck with carrot sticks and the reverse of when people who are used to having an animal protein as a main feel like the need to stop and eat on the way home.

The menu for the shindig was:
Edamame with sea salt
Napa cabbage and morel mushroom pot stickers
Tofu and ginger garlic veg steamed dumplings
Mushroom and bamboo shoot steamed buns
Steamed zucchini in a walnut sauce
Sesame soba noodles
California rolls with avocado, carrot and cucumber
Vietnamese spring rolls with peanut and soy-mirin sauces
Thai-style fried rice
2 kinds of nut-based vegan cookies, a pecan sandie and an apricot jam poppy seed cookie

I made and froze the pot stickers, the dumplings and buns early in the week to avoid having a lot of hands-on stuff at the party locale because the California rolls and the spring rolls had to be done on site at the last minute.

Things went very smoothly and all the food went out at the right time except the California rolls and I did those as people were beginning to eat. It was a little more hectic for me not having my usual partner in crime there to manage the non-food aspect of things but I did have a lot of help from Miss M (despite a nagging cough) and from our hostess. They got everything arranged on the table which would have put me over the edge stress wise.

It was a great evening though I did spend a lot of it in the kitchen. I think people were feeling a little guilty that I was rallied ’round the stove most of the evening, but I am finding (and maybe this is a catering thing) that I like being a little removed from the meat of the party when I am doing the food. I feel a little panicky if I sit for too long afraid that a tray is empty or a bowl of goodies needs refilled. It may also be my weirdnesses around crowds and my preferences for partying with a small, tight-knit group over lots of peeps.

Everyone seemed to love the food and I think a few people were surprised that it was entirely vegan. Making an Asian inspired menu vegan isn’t too tough. The biggest thing I had to avoid with the Thai and Vietnamese dishes was a fish sauce, which is admittedly a pretty important part of the flavor profiles of those cuisines. The saltiness of soy definitely worked in its place.

Our hostess with the mostess said that she was watching people fill their plates and pointing out which sauces to eat with what and lots of “did you try these?” That always makes a girl feel good and, if you know me you know that I always tend to over cook a bit (as Nigella says “Never knowingly undercatered”). There was very little food left. A few California rolls and some of the veg for fillings. Oh, and some cookies. Either I am hitting the mark better or those were some happily hungry folks. Yay!.

All in all, I felt really good about it and happy that Miss M could eat everything at her party with no worries. We did have a few other peeps with various intolerances but they were able to eat many things despite some pretty difficult things to avoid with Asian dishes, namely sesame, soy, wheat and corn. Okay, corn wasn’t too difficult because I don’t generally buy corn-syrup sweetened anything. There are pictures that Miss M took with a film camera. (Hint, hint, Miss M, I’d love one when you get them developed).

Zucchini with Walnut Sauce

½ cup konbu dashi (made by boiling a small piece of konbu in water for 10 minutes)
2 Tablespoons tamari
2 Tablespoons sake or Mirin
1 teaspoon honey or golden syrup or sugar
½ teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
½ teaspoon white miso
1 cup walnuts toasted
3 medium zucchini, cut into 2×1/2” matchsticks
1 teaspoon sesame seeds

In a saucepan, combine the dashi, soy sauce, Mirin, sugar, and ginger. Simmer for 10 minutes. Add the miso and turn the heat very low (don’t allow miso to boil), keeping the sauce warm with no bubbles. In a food processor, grind the walnuts to a meal and stir in to the sauce. Lightly steam the zucchini until tender crisp. Drain and toss with sauce. Serve hot or cold. Garnish with sesame seeds.

Stollen, not boughten

victoria  —  December 17, 2006 — Leave a comment

Another night of baking as my list is dwindling. At this point I am pretty sure I am not going to get to a few things. I have to make the stollen though or my inner Kraut gets all uppity and demands cabbages and sausages.

The Jules was a big help with the stollen this year as he volunteered to knead the dough (it’s one of those I insist be done by hand — I know I have issues) and I made only one instead of the double recipe in years past. I also soaked the fruits in boiling water and brandy before adding them to the dough. Fruits this year consisted of homemade candied orange peel, dried cranberries and chopped dried apricots. I usually add raisins or currants but I couldn’t find either in my larder and I had all this other dried fruit to use. It required extra flour to soak up the brandied fruit juice but the stollen is much lighter than before and rose beautifully. I also went back to the roll of marzipan in the middle over chunks of marzipan in the dough and I think I much prefer it. Besides, it looks cool sliced with the circle of marzipan in the fold of the loaf.

Wherein we completed the kneading of the stollen

Wherein our heroes completed the baking of the stollen

Oh, one other addition: with the vanilla, I added 1 teaspoon of orange flower water. I had read about it being used in pannetone somewhere and thought it would add to the stollen. I can’t tell if it is the strength of the home candied peel or the orange flower water but the citrus note is lovely.

Whereupon it snowed of the powdered sugar

When we did feast upon part of the stollen (and cleaved it to show the gentle readers the wondrous marzipan middle)