Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Nick Cooks Indian

Just when I think that this Nick-cooks-dinner-on-Monday-nights thing is getting old for him, he comes to me and wants to know what we should cook together. Tonight he was back in the kitchen, making curry. We were inspired by a recipe for vegetable curry that we saw on America's Test Kitchen, which I have adapted below. Nick has been a lover of Indian food since he was a baby, when we took him to Devon Avenue and fed him dal and rice while we feasted on tandoori and murgh masala.

Vegetable Curry

2 tablespoons curry powder (we used hot curry powder from the Spice House)
1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
2 onions, chopped
3 potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic
1 Serrano chili, diced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 14-0z can chopped tomatoes
1 can garbanzo beans
2 cups water
1 1/2 cups frozen peas
1/2 cup half and half

Toast the spices in a dry skillet until fragrant and beginning to smoke. Remove the spices to a cool plate or bowl. In a large pot, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions and potatoes, and cook until they are beginning to brown, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Push the vegetables to the side of the pan and add an additional tablespoon of oil. Add the garlic, chili, tomato paste, and spices, and cook until fragrant, about a minute. Add the cauliflower and stir to coat with the spice mixture. Add the tomatoes and the garbanzo beans and a teaspoon of salt. Add enough water to make the mixture loose but not soupy. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is crisp-tender. Add the peas and the half and half, and stir to combine. Serve with hot basmati rice.

This is a fairly simple recipe, and it gave Nick a chance to practice his knife skills, chopping onions, potatoes, garlic, chilies, and cauliflower. He also learned how to peel ginger root with a spoon and grate it with the ginger grater. I am learning how to stay on the "other side" of the kitchen island and let him do his thing.

The final dish was quite spicy. We agreed we might cut back on the chilies next time, or perhaps use a sweet curry powder instead of the hot one.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Finds at the Chicago Farmstand

I came downtown today for a meeting that was canceled while I was in transit. Drat. Frustrated at the dent this knocked in my afternoon's productivity, I decided to stop at the Chicago Farmstand on the way home to see what I could find.

Turns out, it was my lucky day. I found delicious end-of-season strawberries, hearty rhubarb, and fresh, green garlic scapes. I've only cooked with garlic scapes once before. I worked them into an impromptu stir fry with a bunch of other vegetables, and their subtle, green garlic flavor was lost in the melange. This time, I wanted a recipe that would feature their garlicky goodness.

At the suggestion of a friend on Twitter, I decided to try a pesto.

Garlic Scape Pesto

1 bunch garlic scapes
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup Parmesan cheese
juice of one lemon

Cut the garlic scapes into 1-inch pieces. Drop into a food processor and process until well chopped. Add the Parmesan and the lemon juice. With the processor running, slowly add the oil until well incorporated. Pepper to taste.

I tossed this with some spaghetti and four chopped heirloom tomatoes. The pesto was delicious, but a bit too sharp for the delicately sweet tomatoes. Next time, I would use a can of good-quality chopped tomatoes (maybe Muir Glen), and perhaps add a pound of cooked shrimp.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Foodiedad's Adventure in the Woods

My dear husband had been away at our cabin with our son and his best friend for the past week. He spent the week hiking, fishing, playing games, and rebuilding our deck. Amazingly, despite these distractions, he also found time to do a little cooking.

Last year, he built a grill and pizza oven in the outdoor kitchen. One tool we lacked was a functioning rotisserie--the old one broke about halfway through a chicken last year, and we all took turns for the next hour rotating the bird. Before this trip, he ordered a new rotisserie, shown above in action.

I am told that the roast was delicious, a fitting way to cap off their time in the woods. Even more impressive, it made a repeat appearance the next day, reconfigured as hash, crowned with a poached egg.

Hats off to Foodiedad for taking the time to cook while on vacation and making memories around the table with the boys!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Cooking for One?

My boys are out of town this week, and I am home with my teenage daughter, which basically means that I am home alone. This has actually been quite enjoyable thus far, as I have had more time and attention to pay to my vocation by day and my avocations by night. Since I am invariably home alone for dinner, I have not bothered to cook much, choosing to pick up a container of soup or a salad at the grocery instead. But I find I miss getting my pots and pans dirty after a few days. Plus, the teenager eventually comes home, usually hungry, and complains about the lack of "anything to eat."

So, tonight I am back in the kitchen cooking for one, plus another who will raid the fridge later. I had an eggplant in the crisper, which I had planned to curry, but I felt more Meditteranean than Asian tonight. Here is a simple play on eggplant Parmesan, featuring a few other veggies, that does not involve frying.

Roasted Vegetable Parmesan

1 large eggplant, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
1/2 lb mushrooms, stemmed
1 large onion, peeled and quartered
olive oil
1 jar good-quality marinara sauce (I used Club Lucky marinara)
1/2 lb shredded mozzarella cheese
4 bobbolini fresh mozzarella
small bunch of fresh basil and thyme, from the garden
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the eggplant rounds, the mushrooms, and the onion on baking sheets. Brush liberally with olive oil, and salt and pepper. Roast in the oven until the veggies are soft and beginning to brown. Keep an eye on them; you may want to flip them halfway through cooking. Remove the vegetables from the oven, and turn down the temperature to 350 degrees. Rough chop the onion after it cools a bit; halve the mushrooms. In a glass baking dish, pour a little of the marinara and spread it out across the bottom. Line the pan with a layer of eggplant and dot it with the mushrooms and the onion. Sprinkle with a bit of the herbs and a layer of mozzarella. If you are feeling particularly evil, chop up some fresh mozzarella and add it here. Repeat the layers (sauce, veggies, herbs, mozzarella/fresh mozzarella). Finish with the remainder of the sauce, mozzarella, and a generous sprinkling of Parmesan. Bake until bubbly and golden on top. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes after you take it out of the oven. The slices will hold together much better if you let it cool some before you cut it (plus you will be less likely to burn the roof of your mouth off when you eat it). Warm a fresh baguette in the residual heat in the oven while you wait. Leftovers keep well in the fridge for a couple of days, and heat well in a microwave (the only oven teenagers know how to use).

Friday, June 19, 2009

Easy Peasey

When fresh peas are in season, how can I not cook with them? They are sugar sweet but have a firm but creamy texture like no frozen or canned pea. And they are fun to shell, unzipping their little containers and plucking them from their pods. It's good work to share with a friend, over conversation and delicious anticipation of a good meal.

Here is a quick pasta dish featuring peas. The other ingredients are mostly staples around my house; this can be thrown together in less than an hour.

Angel Hair with Shellfish, Bacon, and Peas

1 pound angel hair pasta
8 strips bacon
1 lb shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 lb scallops, halved bilaterally if large
1 1/2 lb English peas
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated

Chop the bacon and fry in a large, heavy-bottomed pan until crisp. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. Cover with another paper towel and hide from pilfering children. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Get the children to help you shell the peas, thereby distracting them from the bacon. Pour most of the bacon grease out of the pan you used to cook the bacon, and put the pan back on medium-high heat. Dry the scallops and the shrimp on paper towels; season with salt and pepper. Cook the scallops and shrimp in the hot pan, in batches. Remove to a plate and reserve. Salt the boiling water. Add the peas and cook for two minutes. Add the angel hair and cook for three minutes. Drain the pasta and peas and place in a large bowl. Add the cooked shellfish and the bacon, and sprinkle the Parmesan on top. Toss to combine, adding reserved pasta water to moisten the dish and make a little "sauce." Serve immediately; garnish with additional Parmesan if desired.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chicken meatballs

Week two of Nick makes dinner:
We decided to tackle the chicken meatballs we read about in the New York Times magazine last Sunday, which are flavored with fresh chives, mint, and basil. We have lots of herbs in the kitchen garden, and Nick was intrigued by the possibility of using the food processor to grind meat. After work, we went to Whole Foods for some chicken thighs, along with a few other necessities. In the produce department, we found fresh English peas, and I thought it might be fun to change the recipe up a big. So, we turned it into a pasta dish, tossing the fried meatballs with the raita sauce along with some fresh corn and peas. Garnished with home-grown chive blossoms, the dish was declared a winner.

Skills Nick learned:
How to work the food processor
How to fry meatballs
How to shell fresh peas (mostly how to eat fresh peas out of the pod)
How to mince chives
How to cut corn kernels off the cob

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

New Chef in the House

It's summer vacation, and my youngest is looking for fun things to do. This is a kid who professes that he wants to be a chef someday. Right now, the dream restaurant he plans to own serves only eggs. So, how encourage him to expand his repertoire of recipes while having a little fun? Monday night dinner.

We've made a deal that Nick will cook dinner on Monday nights during the summer. The menu is up to him. If he plans, I will help him with provisions; if not, he is limited to what he can find in the fridge and in the pantry. I figure this is a good way for him to start learning some basic cooking skills and for us both to have a little fun together.

Yesterday, we found a bunch of broccoli in the crisper and he decided to make an easy soup with some cheese crispies.

Broccoli Soup

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 shallot, minced
2 small onions, chopped
2 potatoes, peeled and diced
4 cups broccoli florets
3 cups chicken stock
4 oz cheddar cheese

In a large soup pot, saute the garlic, shallot, and onion in a little olive oil until it becomes translucent. Add the potatoes and the broccoli. Add the stock. Salt and pepper. Cover the pot and cook until the vegetables are tender. Turn off the heat. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup. Return to a low simmer. Shred or finely dice the cheese and add it to the soup. Stir until the cheese melts. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper to taste. Serve.

Cheese Crispies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut a baguette into slices and place the slices on a large cookie sheet. Paint each slice with a little olive oil. Toast the bread in the oven until it is beginning to crisp on top. Remove from the oven and let cool a little. Peel a clove of garlic and rub the toasts with the raw garlic. Flip the toasts over, paint with a little more oil, and toast the flip side. Remove from the oven again, and top the toasts with a small slice of really good cheddar or Parmesan. Return to the oven just until the cheese melts. Serve.