Archive for October 2009

A Hard Obsession to Crack   2 comments

chestnutbags2

Consider the chestnut. I’ve been considering chestnuts a lot lately, maybe even obsessively.

Because I live in Alabama, a mostly chestnut-free-state, I had to order chestnuts online in order to consider them up close. Turns out, you can get them from many sources on the net, but I chose Allen Creek Farm. Their chesnuts are gorgeous: large, shiny, and practically shouting, they’re so fresh.

chestnuts

The company’s website explains that the chestnut trees on Allen Creek Farm are pesticide-free. I had to order from them, in spite of the issue of the minimum order.

Four-pounds — there are now four-pounds-worth of chestnuts in my refrigerator. I also have a jar of chestnut honey, a package of chestnut flour, this book about the tragic history of the American chestnut tree, oh, and,

chestnutknife

A Chestnut Knife

Hmmm… Did I mention that I have no idea how to prepare chestnuts? That I’ve eaten chestnuts exactly once? That I discovered only recently that the word “chestnut” contains a “t?”

chestnuts

What was I thinking?

chestnutbags

Someone has a lot of chestnuts to eat.

Posted October 30, 2009 by snpulling in Chestnuts, Food Obsessions

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Verde!   1 comment

I’m interested in all things green today, even though it’s more of an orange kind of week. Ah well…here’s a photo of some tiny green Seckel pears that I bought today at the market.

seckelpears

The annual Opelika Dog Parade, known officially as “Howl ‘OWeen,” takes place tonight. It’s a colorful event, involving costumed pets and their ambitious owners. Lots of barking and tat–like a low-rent dog show. We love it.

If the weather holds out — it’s forecast to rain this afternoon — Mimi and I will walk into town to catch the action. Last year, we saw a Standard Poodle with day-glo-pink fur: reason enough to head over.

I’ve made dinner in advance of tonight, something colorful to match the spirit of the evening: Caldo Verde, Portuguese ‘Green Soup.’ Typically, Caldo Verde is a hearty potato soup tinted green with kale and studded with small Portuguese sausages. My version retains all of the traditional ingredients, but I usually make it using more chicken broth than potatoes. Still, it’s definitely verde.

Caldo Verde is soup for cool weather– thick, spicy, and filling. It’s easy to make and tastes even better after a good, long spell on the stove or in the refrigerator. It smells ridiculously good while cooking and is a treat for the eye.

caldoverdepartial

Caldo Verde

1 tbs. olive oil

1 onion, finely diced

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1/4 lb. spicy pork sausage (preferably Conecah brand), cut into 1/4 inch pieces, divided

8 cups water or chicken stock

4 large russet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes

1 cup shredded cabbage (optional)

3 cups kale, preferably Lacinato kale, hard ribs removed, thinly sliced

1 oz. can of garbanzo beans (optional), drained and rinsed

1 tsp. smoked paprika

Salt & pepper

Sauté onion, garlic, and half of the sausage in the olive oil. If necessary, drain off any oil in excess of 1 tbs. Add the potatoes and water or chicken stock. Bring to a boil and simmer on medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Roughly mash the potatoes until soup is thick and somewhat creamy. You want some chunks of potato to remain. Add the kale, cabbage, grabanzo beans and the remainder of the sausage. Simmer until the greens are tender and the sausage is cooked through, about 10-15 minutes. Add smoked paprika and salt & pepper to taste. The soup can simmer on low heat almost indefinitely. Add some water if the soup looks too thick. Adjust seasonings and serve hot with some crusty, warm bread.

Posted October 26, 2009 by snpulling in Everyday recipes, Holidays, Opelika, Soup

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Ottolenghi~Kosheri, a Perfect Dish   Leave a comment

Last night, I made a traditional Egyptian dish called Kosheri from a recipe found in the Ottolenghi cookbook. Kosheri is similar to another popular Middle Eastern dish made with rice, lentils, and caramelized onions called Megadarra (also called Mujadra). Megadarra is typically served with a yogurt, tomato, and cucumber salad; we eat it often in the Summer. Kosheri, however, features a tomato sauce on the side, which makes it great for the cooler months, when tomatoes and cucumbers are not at their best.

Perfect…this dish is perfect. However, the method described in the book is not perfect — at least not for the average home cook — but I think I’ve simplified it a bit.

kosheripot

The meal is completely satisfying. It’s fun to cook, too, provided that you leave yourself a bit of time to complete all the steps.

This is my favorite sort of food: simple but interesting, filling but not heavy (although there is quite a bit of fat in this dish). The spicing here is just right; the cinnamon and nutmeg combination in the Kosheri is well-matched to the spicy, tangy tomato sauce. The dish seems at once healthy and indulgent.

Butter, Sweet Butter

Butter, Sweet Butter

I mostly stuck to ingredients listed in the recipe, but I altered the order of the steps in the process quite a bit. It’s worth noting that this dish has four components: onions, rice/vermicelli, lentils, and tomato sauce. Plan accordingly. As written in the book, the recipe requires the use of four pots/pans, as well as a serving dish– hardly fair to the resident dishwasher. Although my resident dishwasher refuses to believe it, I do consider that sort of thing before I start cooking. With him in mind, I reordered the steps of this recipe and managed to cut down the number of pots/pans used to two.

First, the ingredients: I didn’t have green lentils (and wasn’t likely to find them around here), so I used Puy lentils instead since they retain their shape when cooked. It seemed to me that the ratio of lentils to rice was a little out of balance. I used only about 2/3 of the prepared lentils (I’ve adjusted the amount of lentils in the adapation of the recipe included in this post). I discovered that the red peppers in my fridge were a bit old, so I substituted a combination of dried Aleppo and dried Marash peppers in the tomato sauce (I’m cooking for a 3 year old, so I probably low-balled the pepper to suit her palate). Finally, I used a can of diced tomatoes instead of the fresh ones specified.

It’s a terrific recipe–comfort-food of the highest order.

The more I use this cookbook, the more I like it, although I do find that some of the recommended methods are a bit fussy for everyday use. However, I’m always struck by how so many of the recipes are clever in ways that become apparent only after I make them. Few cookbooks actually help readers become better cooks. I feel like Ottolenghi is one that does.

Kosheri ( adapted from Ottolenghi: the Cookbook)

3/4 cup Puy lentils
1 cup basmati rice
2 tbs. butter
2/3 cup vermicelli noodles, broken into small pieces
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
4 tbs. olive oil
2-3 white onions, thinly sliced (the caramelized onions make the dish; whatever you do, don’t skimp on them)

Spicy tomato sauce
4 tbs. olive oil

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 hot red chilies, seeded & finely diced (or about 1/2 tsp. Marash or Aleppo pepper–or a combination of both–more if you like)

1 28 oz. can of organic, diced tomatoes

4 tbs. cider vinegar

3 tsp. salt

2 tsp. ground cumim

1 tbp. tomato paste

Handful of cilantro leaves, chopped

Caramelize the onions first. Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté the onions over medium heat for 20 minutes, until they are well-caramelized. Drain on paper towels. Clean the pan and use it to make the tomato sauce.

onionsbetter

For the tomato sauce: In the same heavy frying pan, sauté garlic and chilies in the olive oil for two minutes. Add chopped tomatoes, vinegar, salt and cumin. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes, until slightly thickened. Stir in the tomato paste and adjust the seasonings. Refrigerate or leave to cool to room temperature.

While the sauce simmers, prepare the lentils. Rinse them well, then transfer them to a large saucepan with a lid. Cover completely with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 25 minutes. The lentils should be tender, but intact. Drain them in a colander and set aside. Clean pan and use it to make the rice & vermicelli.

Then make the rice. Rinse rice well. In the sauce pan that you used to cook the lentils, melt butter in over medium heat. Add the raw vermicelli, stir and continue frying and stirring until vermicelli turns golden brown. Add the drained rice and stir until the entire mixture is well-c0ated by the melted butter. Add the water and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 12 minutes. Turn off heat, remove the pot lid, cover the pan with a clean dish towel and replace the lid. Leave alone for five minutes to allow the towel to absorb extra moisture from the rice (don’t be tempted to skip this step; it’s easy enough to do and is worth the small amount of effort).

To serve, empty the lentils, rice/vermicelli and most of the onions onto a large serving platter. Adjust the seasonings and gently toss everything together. Garnish with the remaining onions and serve with warmed tomato sauce. Kosheri is especially good along with warm pita or flat bread. A bit of Greek yogurt on the side would not be an unwelcome addition. This dish reheats well in the microwave.

Kosheri

Kosheri

Posted October 25, 2009 by snpulling in Lentils, Main Dishes, Ottolenghi

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Halloween Cupcakes   Leave a comment

cupcakes1

It’s difficult to believe, but Halloween is already upon us. I’ve been meaning to make something with pumpkin and yesterday seemed like the day for it.

No thanks to the weather, which has been decidedly unseasonable — depressingly so. Despite this, we soldiered on and made these lovely cupcakes, even though I had to turn on the air conditioner while they baked in the oven.

Fall is my favorite time to bake, which means that I feel especially outraged when the weather doesn’t cooperate. It ought to be cool and sunny outside; instead, it’s warm and humid.

I curse you Alabama weather gods. I thumb my nose at you.

Mimi enjoyed making and decorating the cupcakes.

beater

The recipe comes from the October issue of Bon Appetit. The cupcakes are pumpkin spice with a surprise layer of crystalized ginger. The frosting is buttercream with a jolt of cream cheese. Instead of the mini-cupcakes that the recipe calls for, I made nine regular-sized. It gave us more surface area to decorate.

Posted October 24, 2009 by snpulling in cupcakes, Dessert, Halloween, Holidays, Uncategorized, weather

Stuck on Apples   Leave a comment

apple

Perfection

by William Carlos Williams

O lovely apple!

beautifully and completely

rotten,

hardly a contour marred—

perhaps a little

shriveled at the top but that

aside perfect

in every detail! O lovely

apple! What a

deep and suffusing brown

mantles that

unspoiled surface! No one

has moved you

since I placed you on the porch

rail a month ago

to ripen.

No one. No one!

Posted October 22, 2009 by snpulling in apples, Poetry, William Carlos Williams

Wabi Sabi   1 comment

applescolander

Wabi Sabi is a Japanese aesthetic ideal that is concerned with honoring simple, unadorned, natural objects and events in life, those things that are beautiful and beloved because of their imperfection and simplicity, not in spite of them. Mimi has a lovely storybook called Wabi Sabi, written by Mark Reibstein and illustrated by Ed Young, about a cat by that name who seeks to learn the meaning of its namesake. Everyone she asks begins by saying, “That’s hard to explain …”

Wabi Sabi is hard to explain, but I think that a good way of understanding it might be to consider the apple.

Surely, the apple is one of nature’s most exquisite achievements, yet humans have done their damnedest to ruin it. As proof, I offer the Red Delicious apple. How perfect it is~

But isn’t it a little odd looking, for all its genetically-engineered perfection?

I cannot love it.

I can, however, love this misshapen Arkansas Black. Lopsided, blemished, and bruised — this is a beautiful apple.

apple3

And, unlike the Red Delicious, this one tastes good. Like an apple, if you can imagine.

Mimi and I spent the morning marvelling at the imperfect beauty of pumpkins, quinces, satsumas, persimmons, and apples at the Market at Blooming Colors, a new fruit and vegetable stand in Auburn that carries mostly  locally grown food. The apples, for instance, come from a farm in North Georgia and they’re pesticide free. The market is a valuable addition to the area.

The weather is cool (finally) and the market was the perfect place to spend a sunny Fall morning. We indulged ourselves in utterly simple ways: picking out pumpkins and snacking on apples and roasted peanuts. We brought home with us five flawed pumpkins and two bags full of misshapen apples: our beautiful treasures.

mimipumpkin

Lunch, eaten amid the new pumpkins on our very simple front porch, consisted of apples and cheddar cheese. What else did we need? The sky was blue, the air was cool, and we were happy.

mimiapples

Simply Beautiful

Ottolenghi~Roast Chicken with Saffron, Pistachios & Honey   4 comments

On Saturday night, we finally managed to get together for dinner with our good friends Jeff and Karen. I served a simple but somewhat experimental meal, precipitated by my recent interest in the Ottolenghi cookbook. Jeff & Karen are great fun to spend time with and both of them are enthusiastic about food; we had a lovely evening. Here’s what we ate:

Roast Chicken with Saffron, Pistachios, & Honey (Ottolenghi)
Couscous with Herbs and Sultanas
Roasted Cauliflower with Cumin
Chocolate Fudge Cake
(Ottolenghi)

We purchase our chicken from a poultry farm in Hartselle, Alabama, Goose Pond Farms. Their chickens are superb: moist, tender, and flavorful, better than anything available at the grocery store. Since May, I’ve been buying two chickens per month from Goose Pond Farms and have prepared those birds every way imaginable: brined, roasted, fried, grilled, casseroled. I just can’t seem to cook them badly. But the truth is, I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by chicken, which is ridiculous, I know, given how good they actually taste. I wanted something a little different, and the Ottolenghi recipe seemed like just the thing.

The recipe begins with some chicken prep. Jim’s better at that sort of thing than I am so I left him to it.

Jim debones the beast

Jim debones the beast

I couldn’t find the specified hazelnuts at the grocery store when I went earlier in the day, so I substituted pistachio nuts, which seemed more authentic to the Middle Eastern origins of the dish anyway. I cooked the chicken in my Emile Henry tagine, which doesn’t get used as often as it should. It’s a beautiful pot that cooks well and cleans easily. Why don’t I use it more often?

At any rate, the chicken cooked quite well in it.

I liked this recipe. It was simple to make and looked just lovely, especially in the tagine. When I make it again — and I will — I’ll definitely add a bit of heat — maybe Aleppo or Marash pepper. The saffron, honey and rosewater are wonderful together, but the flavors are a bit subtle. I kept wondering what this dish would be like made with grocery-store chicken, which is always so bland and rubbery. I will also serve bread of some sort alongside the couscous. There was a great deal of liquid in the bottom of the pan, and I wanted to enjoy every last drop of that golden broth. All in all, it’s a really good chicken recipe, perfect for when you have a freezer too full of a good thing.

Roast Chicken with Saffron, Hazelnuts (or pistachio nuts) & Honey (adapted from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook)

1 large organic chicken, hacked up into quarters
1 onions, chopped
4 tbs. olive oil
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
a generous pinch of saffron threads
juice of one lemon
4 tbs. cold water
2 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. black pepper
4 oz. unskinned hazelnuts (I used pistachios)
3 oz. honey
2 tbs. rosewater
2 green onions, roughly chopped

In a large bowl, mix the chicken pieces with onions, olive oil, ginger, cinnamon, saffron, lemon juice, salt & pepper. Marinate for at least one hour or overnight. Preheat over to 375 degrees. Spread nuts on a rimmed cookie sheet and roast for 10 minutes, until lightly browned. Chop roughly and set aside.
Transfer chicken and marinade to a large roasting tray or tagine. Arrange the chicken skin side up. Roast uncovered for 35 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix the honey, rosewater and nuts together to form a paste. Remove chicken from oven and spread nut mixture over all of the pieces. Return to the oven for 5-10 minutes, until the chicken is complete cooks and the nuts are toasty brown.
Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the green onions. Serve with rice or couscous.

The finished dish

The finished dish