6.27.2011

Impromptu Weeknight Curry: Okra, Potatoes and Squash

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Usually when I shop for groceries, I try to have meals in mind. But last week when I saw a bin of good-looking okra at Super King, I purchased it without having a clue to what I was going to do with it.

I grew up eating okra. But only prepared in one way -- in tomato sauce, with garlic, onions, and herbs. I've always liked it because it had such a unique flavor, but it's not a vegetable I crave or think about often. And I had never prepared it myself. I was supposed to call the parents while driving home from work, which is the only time I spend talking on the phone, to ask for the recipe. But, as I sat behind the wheel that evening, I didn't feel like having a conversation with my mom. These short, almost daily check-ins, leave me tired and grumpy. They usually go something like this:

Mom: So what's new?
KK: Nothing new from yesterday.
Mom: Why not?
KK: Because all I did was make dinner, sleep and go to work since we last talked.
Mom: Your life is boring. You call me and expect me to talk while you just listen.
KK: I call you 'cause you insist on me calling me, and who says I'm listening?
Mom: What!? What did you say?
KK: I am almost home, have to go, so much traffic. Bye!

Sometimes the above varies with accusatory questions of when we're going to finally have a baby, or how we shouldn't plan all our trips around drinking, or when we're going to visit next -- they hardly remember what I look like! So as you can imagine, there are times when on my drive home, I just want to listen to NPR and not defend our upcoming wine tasting trip, or our fear of becoming prisoners to a little baby, and inviting more boredom to our already very boring lives. So, that evening, I sacrificed my parents okra recipe for a peaceful drive.

When I got home, I Googled okra, and came across a strange recipe for a scallop and okra curry. It looked weird, and I didn't pay it much attention, since I had no scallops, but, it inspired me to make some sort of an okra curry. I checked my kitchen. I had potatoes, and a squash from the garden. With some coconut milk, tomato sauce and curry powder, items I always have in the pantry, I told myself I could make this work. At first, I was a bit concerned about how well okra would go with the rest of the ingredients, but decided to just go with it. And I'm glad I did, the curry was delicious. And even better the next day.

I had to taste a lot along the way, and adjust the seasoning, add more ginger and broth, but the end result was worth the effort. I would definitely make this dish again; my very own okra recipe, and I didn't even have to field annoying baby questions to get it.
Okra, Potato and Squash Curry
Serves 4 - 6

1 1/2 lbs of okra, trimmed and washed
3 red potatoes, peeled, and diced (I microwaved these first for about 7 minutes to cut down on the cooking time)
1 squash, diced (we think this was a winter squash, but any solid, hearty squash will do)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 inch piece of ginger, chopped
1/2 can of coconut milk
1, 8 oz can of tomato sauce
tbsp of tomato paste
8 or so oz of chicken broth
curry powder
olive oil
salt and pepper

1) Saute your shallot and garlic in olive oil. And curry powder and ginger, and saute for an additional 2-3 minutes.
2) Add potatoes, more oil if needed, and cook for 5 or some minutes. Then add okra, along with salt and pepper, and cook an additional 5 minutes.
3) Add the remainder of your ingredients, cover and simmer for 20 or so minutes,
4) Uncover, taste, adjust any seasoning (more curry powder, broth, salt), cover and continue cooking until potatoes and okra have cooked through about 15 or so minutes.
5) Uncover and cook, until sauce reaches desired consistency.

Serve over rice.



6.24.2011

One Night, Two Ice Creams

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Despite choosing to share our lives with each other, the husband and I, have a hard time sharing space in our home. We are convinced that if we had started off our marriage living in a one-room place, we would have gone our separate ways years ago. There's no doubt in our minds that the second room saved us.

From the start we've had our own bathrooms. And there are times when we were forced to share due to some plumbing issue, or visitors, and those times were... unpleasant. We tried to share closets, but after a couple of months of doors slamming too loudly, too early in the morning, and disorganization, I moved his stuff to the guest room, and our "clothes" have never been happier. For some time, we shared the guest room/office, which seemed to work, although not perfectly. But with the arrival of my new laptop, we now have our own office spaces, with our own computers, and much more tranquility. I can blog in peace, while the husband plays his guitar, or keyboard, or reads about raising chickens. And when I visit his "music room", it feels like a little field trip, where he shows me something new and I smile supportively.

And although we live in harmony in the living, dining, and bedroom, and couldn't get along better in our yard, the kitchen is another room we have not mastered sharing. Not yet. But on Friday evening we decided to give it a try. Inspired by the lovebirds on Down Home with the Neelys, we set out to make ice cream. Two ice creams.

Now, we don't have cable. Never have. So, I recall watching the Neelys for the first time at my folks house with the husband. After the first five minutes of their "I love yous", compliments, and winks, we looked over at each other, laughed, and decided we were are the complete opposite of the Neelys and needed our own show to share with the world our dirty looks, sighs and general frustrations of making food together. Maybe if we had a huge kitchen, things might be different. Maybe. But, we don't. We have limited counter space. I have one good chef's knife. We have different philosophies of cleaning up while cooking (like you should clean and not stand around waiting for your water to boil). So the combination of all these things make our joint cooking adventures interesting, but they often end with one of us giving up, leaving the kitchen looking miserable while mumbling "you just finish up in there".

As Friday approached, we (mostly I, the perfectionist in the kitchen) decided to shift my attitude, and practice patience. Although we didn't end up blowing kisses across our new kitchen island cart, or flirtatiously winking at each other like the Neelys, we did manage to have fun, share the space without (much) disagreement, and most importantly, make two deliciously creamy and rich ice creams. Ice creams so good we could have charge for them.
The two ice creams we decided to make were Chocolate Doubt Mint and Pistachio, thinking these would compliment each other, which they did. What we liked about the recipes in this book, Ice Cream and Iced Desserts, found at the local library, was that the basic recipe was pretty much the same for many of the ice creams. It was simple and made a good base, unlike the ice cream recipe the husband and our friend attempted before. As you can see in that post from the past, I didn't even list the recipe because it was too complicated.
The two ice creams start to differ after step 2, where you either stir in the chocolate or make a pistachio paste. At this point, you really could get creative and add in flavors that appeal to you. We pretty much stuck to the recipes from the book, with minor adjustments, like whiskey. Enjoy!
Chocolate Double Mint Ice Cream
from Ice Cream and Iced Desserts
Serves 4-6

4 egg yolks
6 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 1/4 cups low-fat milk
7 oz dark chocolate, broken into squares
1/4 cup of peppermints, we used Altoids, which are curiously strong, so we used less
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
splash of whiskey (our addition)

1) Combine yolks, sugar and cornstarch and whisk until thick and foamy. Pour the milk into a saucepan, bring to a boil, then gradually whisk into the yolk mixture.
2) Scrape the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens. Scrape back into a bowl, add chocolate a little at a time, and stir until melted. Cool, then chill.
3) Put the peppermints into a zip lock and crush with a rolling pin. Stir into the chilled custard, along with the mint.
4) Using an ice cream maker, combine custard and cream, and churn until firm.

Pistachio Ice Cream
from Ice Cream and Iced Desserts
Serves 4-6

4 egg yolks
6 tbsp sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
1 1/4 cups low-fat milk
1 cup of pistachios
1 1/4 cups whipping cream
green food coloring
splash of whiskey (our addition)

1) Combine yolks, sugar and cornstarch and whisk until thick and foamy. 
2) Pour the milk into a saucepan, bring to a boil, then gradually whisk into the yolk mixture.
3) Return the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the custard thickens. Scrape back into a bowl, cool, then chill.
4) Shell pistachios, place them into a food processor, all 2 tbsp of the cream and grind to a course paste.
5) Pour the rest of the cream into a saucepan, bring to a boil, and stir in the pistachio paste. Let it cool.
6) Mix the chilled custard and pistachio cream, and tint with a few drops of green food coloring.
7) Using an ice cream maker, churn until firm enough to scoop.

6.21.2011

Rosemary Pork Chops with Potato & Squash Hash

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It might surprise you to hear, prior to this meal, I had never brined anything. The idea of my meat sitting in a ziplock with salt water was not appealing. I had images of month-long, ocean travel forming in my head. The kind without refrigeration, as I am aware this process was used to preserve food. However, my one and only experience with brining has changed my mind and made me a believer. I'm not sure I ever want to eat another pork chop that hasn't spent some quality time floating in a salty solution. That's right. These chops were that good, and here I quote the husband, "This is definitely the best pork chop I have ever had, at home, that wasn't breaded. Probably."

You might have gathered from the statement above, we often bread our pork chops. That way they stay moist, it's fool-proof. So last week when I discovered two, fat chops in the back of my freezer, my first inclination was to make our chops and mashed potatoes meal. Which we do well. But, then I said to myself, these chops are so nice and fat, it would be a shame to pound them out. Then I also said to myself, how long have these been in the freezer? I had no answer to the second question, and decided to try brining them, to add moisture into these mystery chops. Instead of looking up a recipe, I filled a ziplock bag with water, added a couple of tablespoons of salt, and let them sit overnight in the fridge. I was not sure what to expect.

The next day I googled pork chop recipes until I came across a rosemary rub from The Kitchn. The picture of the raw chops covered with rosemary won me over. When I got home, I drained my chops, let them dry out for about an hour, applied the rub, and let them marinade for another hour. The result was one tasty pork chop. Definitely the best I've made at home. Probably.
Along with the pork, I served a potato and squash (home-grown! our first of the season) hash. Simple. Took some time, as potatoes tend to do, but it was delicious, with minimal spices -- salt, pepper, cumin, paprika and garlic. I started off with caramelizing a white onion, then adding my potatoes, and in the last 15 minutes, adding the squash. I can eat potatoes prepared this way every night.

Sometimes, at work, I dream about these potatoes. On evenings when the husband has other plans, or school, I will go home, open a bottle of white wine, start cooking my potatoes, and hang out in the kitchen, reorganizing the pantry, and enjoying my 40 minutes of quiet time as the potatoes sizzle away. Topped with ketchup and hot sauce, this is the ultimate comfort dish for me.
Simple Rosemary-Rubbed Pork Chops
from The Kitchn
Makes four servings

4 pork loin chops (about 1/2 pound each)
1 - 2 teaspoons olive oil for the pan
1 tablespoon rosemary
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon cumin (I added more)
(I also added 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper)

Combine rosemary, brown sugar, salt, pepper and cumin in a small bowl. Rub mixture all over chops. Let spices penetrate meat for a few minutes before cooking. If there's time, cover and put in refrigerator for a few hours before cooking.

If chops have been refrigerated, remove from refrigerator and let the chill dissipate for 10-15 minutes. Cook on an oiled, pre-heated (medium-high) grill-pan or skillet, oiled grill about 5 minutes on each side.

6.20.2011

Boreg: Spinach and Feta

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This is a recipe I probably make most often, yet somehow it has not made it on to this blog. I never think of documenting it, and don't use any type of measurements, maybe that's why it's hard to write about it. Or it could be that deep down, I don't want to share this very easy recipe, since it's a hit at parties, and everyone thinks I've spent so much time and effort laboring over these delicious little triangles, when in fact, you can make these in less than an hour, without much thought involved.

Feta is the key ingredient here, and in traditional Armenian boreg the only ingredient, besides eggs. But I enjoy playing around with fillings and have tried sun dried tomatoes, olives and dill. However, the spinach and feta cheese combo, is my favorite variation, not too different from the Greek Spanakopita, which uses phyllo pastry dough. Boreg is made with puff pastry, which is easy to work with, inexpensive and available everywhere.

Below are my best approximations for my version of this savory treat. I visually like to see equal amounts of white (feta) and green (spinach), but there's no science involved here. Follow your taste buds.
Spinach and Feta Boreg
makes 20 triangles

1 packet of puff pastry squares (10 count)
1/2 bag of frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed of excess liquid
1/2 lbs or so of Bulgarian feta (I like the sharpness of this feta)
2 eggs, yolks and whites separated
1 tbsp of water
cooking spray or olive oil

1) Mix together the feta, egg whites and spinach, incorporating all the ingredients, and breaking up the feta into little chunks.
2) Cut the pastry squares diagonally, creating 4 triangles. 
3) On a greased cookie sheet, assemble the triangles, with a couple of tablespoons of filling. Don't over fill, as they will leak and look sloppy. Glaze the top of each triangle with the yolks and water mixture.
4) Bake in an oven at between 350-375 for about 25 minutes, until golden.

Cool and serve. These can be served warm, but are often eaten at room temperature. 

6.14.2011

Quick Weeknight Meal: Wedge Salad, Russian Hot Dogs, with Red Slaw

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On this particular night we had a dinner of two salads. Starting off with a wedge of iceberg with Trader Joe's Goddess dressing (the only store-bought dressing we will eat these days) and crumbled Gorgonzola. I had forgotten how deliciously simple a wedge of iceberg with blue cheese can be. This was a nice reminder. We decided to not forget so easily again, and serve this salad more often. Next time it will be topped with bacon.

For the main course we had salad number two, red cabbage slaw, which has been featured on here numerous times, and Russian hot dogs. Now you might be asking yourself what makes these links so Russian? I'm not really sure, except that the package says so, and I bought them at the Armenian deli. They don't really taste like regular American hot dogs, and they are small and cute. I boiled them first, them sauteed the links in olive oil with paprika and cumin. These are really meaty, so three per person was plenty.

The cabbage slaw I made the night before, letting it marinade and absorb all the flavors. So the night of, the dinner came together quickly, giving me more time to not watch TV.

6.08.2011

Colorful Fennel and Citrus Salad

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I had leftover roasted beets. I had some fennel, and an orange. And I had just purchased the largest grapefruits in the world. Instead of using these for bowling, or murder weapons, I decided to make a salad.

I didn't really use a recipe, this kind of came to me, and I went with it. But maybe I should have. The husband stated the vinaigrette lacked "something", although after clearing his plate, he still didn't know what that "something" was. Very helpful.

The fennel was shaved with a mandoline. I segmented an orange, broke apart the grapefruit into chunks, and sliced my beets. I dressed the above ingredients with olive oil, lemon juice, a splash of champagne vinegar, salt and pepper. I let everything sit in the fridge for a few hours. The citrus penetrated the thin fennel wafers. The beets working their magic, quickly turned the salad pink. 

Although you can eat this all on it's own, which I did for lunch, and it was very refreshing. For dinner, I used my salad as a topping for some romaine lettuce. Then, on top of everything, I added Bulgarian feta, which provided a nice sharpness and contrast to the sweet and citrusy flavors. By the way, I don't think citrusy is really a word, but with English being my third language, I make stuff up all the time. It's an immigrant privilege. We come to this country, take your jobs, and change the vocabulary.    

I do, however, think the husband was on to something. The vinaigrette could use a little "umpf" (I'm pretty sure that is a semi-real word). I think some freshly chopped basil or tarragon would have done the trick. Isn't that so much more helpful than "something is missing..."?