« January 2006 | Main | March 2006 »

February 23, 2006

Curried Tomato Yogurt Soup

So, I've been busy trying not to come down with a cold for the past couple of days. So far, it's hard to tell whether I'm succeeding - I have a perpetual sore throat, ameliorated only by large quantities of hot beverages, and I'm tired as heck. Under such circumstances, anything I cook has to be simple to prepare, and easy on the throat.

Oddly enough, this kind of state tends to lead to improvisational cooking. For some reason, when I'm tired, following a recipe seems like too much effort.

Tonight for dinner, I improvised this soup, which is both of those things.

The Ingredients

The Steps

  1. Sautee the onion in a bit of oil until soft.
  2. Add the garlic, ginger, and spices. Sautee for about 1 minute.
  3. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, and broth.
  4. Simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  5. Turn off the heat, and stir in most of the yogurt, reserving a little bit to dollop on top of the soup at serving time.
  6. Serve soup garnished with cilantro and reserved yogurt.

This was pretty darn good. It had enough spice to it to clear your sinuses a bit, but they were balanced out by the creaminess and tang of the yogurt. Next time I make it, I'd like to tinker with the spices a bit - I think the soup would have a little bit of extra zip if I took the time to intelligently blend more individual spices, rather than just dumping in a bunch of curry powder that's probably been sitting in my spice rack for a bit too long, if truth be told. But this was not an "intelligently blend spices" kind of night.

I served this soup accompanied by cheese toasts, which were absolutely amazing. I think all of that comes down to the quality of the cheese: I took a couple of ounces of grated Dubliner cheese, spread it on top of two slices of whole wheat bread, and toasted it under the broiler until it was bubbly and slightly golden on top. The Dubliner cheese is terrific, and this was the first time I'd ever had it. It's kind of like a cross between a cheddar and a Swiss. A really good cheddar and a really good Swiss. It more than made up for the bread I used being decidedly mediocre. (Oroweat 100% Whole Wheat "Carb Counting" bread. I picked it up because it doesn't contain high fructose corn syrup as its second or third ingredient, as so many whole wheat breads do. Meh. It's not bad, but it's a bit dry. The quest for the perfect 100% whole grain bread continues. So far, the leader of the pack is Alvarado Street Bakery.)

Posted by spaceling at 09:32 PM | TrackBack

February 12, 2006

Meyer Lemon Salsa

You may all remember that I picked up some Meyer lemons at the farmers' market a couple of weeks ago. I've been using them in various dishes ever since, but I had a feeling that I hadn't really found a way to use the special qualities of the Meyer lemon to their best advantage. The Meyer lemon does make a fantastic vinaigrette dressing, but when I used Meyer lemons in the way I most often use regular lemons - adding a squeeze or two of the juice to various dishes at the end of cooking to perk up flavors - I couldn't help thinking that I'd have been better off with a regular lemon - the Meyer doesn't have the bracing tartness of a regular lemon, and its subtle sweetness tends to get lost in any complex cooked dish.

It was starting to make me downright grumpy. Here I am with some of the most culinarily-prized citrus fruit available, and I can't think of anything to do with it.

Fortunately, a food blogger came to my rescue. Amy over at Cooking with Amy has an entire post on what to do with Meyer lemons.

This morning, I tried out a variation on Amy's suggestion for a Meyer lemon salsa, with a few substitutions. I only had garlic-stuffed green olives, rather than oil-cured, and I had some parsley on hand. So, it's sort of a strange cross between a salsa and a gremolata. But it's tasty.

The Ingredients

The Steps

  1. Cut the lemon into slices, and cut the slices radially into very fine wedges. (Or however you like - basically you're looking for a lot of tiny chunks of lemon with rind attached.)
  2. Put the cut up lemon in a bowl, and tip your cutting board over the bowl to let any lemon juices run into the bowl.
  3. Coarsely chop the green olives and add them to the bowl.
  4. Add the chopped parsley.
  5. Drizzle in a little olive oil and stir everything together. Season to taste with pepper.

Wow. I have to admit, I was a little dubious about eating the lemon rind, but this stuff is fabulous. It's got a wonderful sunshine-y lemon flavor, without being sour or puckery. I think it probably would be even better with some oil-cured olives - their earthier meatier flavor would round out the flavors nicely. Though I did like the garlic flavor from the garlic-stuffed olives. Perhaps next time I'll use some of each.

I ate some of this on slices of rye crispbread. I'm sure it would be great, as Amy suggests, with grilled fish, or even with roasted chicken or pork. Or as a topping for a whole wheat pita stuffed with roasted eggplant and zucchini.

I think I need to get to the farmers market and get some more Meyer lemons.

Posted by spaceling at 09:16 AM | TrackBack

February 11, 2006

Pickled Brussels Sprouts

I discovered a new food item that I'd never had before yesterday - pickled Brussels sprouts. At our usual Friday afternoon happy hour kind of thing, there was a relish tray with a bunch of standard pickled things like artichoke hearts, dill pickle spears, olives, little sweet peppers, mushrooms, and then there were these sprouts. As far as I can tell, they were cooked very lightly (perhaps just blanched) and marinated with vinegar and red pepper. They were crunchy and spicy and cabbage-y and delicious.

I don't really know why I found the idea so surprising - pickled cabbage is quite a standard item, and Brussels sprouts really are just a tiny cabbage.

I don't think they were a big hit overall, though. I didn't see anyone else eat one.

Posted by spaceling at 09:30 PM | TrackBack

February 08, 2006

Things to Do with Leftover Roast Chicken

So, having roasted a chicken, I've had lots of lovely leftover roasted chicken to use. Leftovers are always funny things - it seems like I'm eternally coming across recipes that call for cooked chicken, or a bit of stale bread, or coooked rice. Except when I actually happen to have any of those things on hand, and then I can't find anything and am left wondering what I'm going to do with the stuff.

My first tactic in using up leftover chicken is a rather uncreative one: put some in a whole wheat tortilla, top with Safeway's bottled chipotle salsa, roll up, and eat. Uncreative, because sufficient quantities of chipotle salsa can make anything taste good. Chipotles - Part of This Complete Breakfast!

The second tactic involved just slightly more culinary cleverness: toss some chopped leftover chicken with thinly sliced red cabbage, sugar snap peas, and Ginger People sesame ginger dressing. This makes a really nice crunchy salad. (I think I'm going to start using more red cabbage in salads. It's tasty and crunchy, and it keeps a bit better than the more delicate lettuces.)

But I've still got some leftover chicken. At least one, maybe two meal's worth. So I've got to come up with some more ideas. (Not to mention that I have a frozen chicken carcass in the freezer, waiting for me to make stock.)

Posted by spaceling at 11:12 PM | TrackBack

Refried Black Beans

One of my favorite things about cooking is when I get to make a dish that is really simple, and yet really good. I also love it when I cook something that I've only had in restaurants, and the homemade version comes out better. The refried black beans that I made last night were a wonderful instance of both of these.

I more or less followed the recipe for 'Fried Beans' in Rick Bayless's Mexican Everyday. (Bayless quite correctly points out that the Spanish refritos, usually translated as "refried", more properly translates as "thoroughly fried".) I cut down on the quantities, since there were just two of us. We gobbled up every bite, so next time I may just go ahead and make a larger batch. But here's what I used:

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. (A nonstick skillet makes cleaning up a breeze - I recommend it.) When the oil is hot, toss in the garlic, and cook it for about a minute. Add the beans, and mash them up with the back of a wooden spoon. (Or with a fork, or a potato masher.) I mashed to a fairly coarse consistency, leaving a fair number of whole beans. Keep cooking, mashing, and stirring until the dish has the consistency of mashed potatoes.

These are so much better than the gluey mess of pinto beans you get at a run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant that it's not even funny. (You could make this recipe with pinto beans instead of black beans, and I expect it would still be yummy. Perhaps I'll try it sometime, though Mr. Spaceling professes a certain antipathy toward pinto beans. I suspect that this has to do with having eaten in too many run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurants.)

I served these with puerco a la Mexicana, another dish from Bayless's book, which was good enough to deserve an entry of its own. Stay tuned...

Posted by spaceling at 10:35 PM | TrackBack

February 05, 2006

Roasted Chicken

I achieved a culinary milestone of a sort today: I roasted a chicken for the first time.

It seems hard to believe that I've been cooking for years and never roasted a chicken. But for a long time, I didn't really cook very much meat. Meat was fiddly, and expensive, and more often than not I'd overcook it and it wouldn't taste good. Better to stick with veggies.

Also, for the first couple of years I was cooking, I hardly ever used the oven. I did my cooking on the stovetop, where I could see what was going on.

Slowly, I acquired some skill in cooking meat. It's not too hard, really - it requires 2 things - practice and an instant-read thermometer. But I'd still never roasted a chicken. Today I decided that it was high time to remedy that.

I used Nigella Lawson's Basic Roast Chicken recipe from How to Eat. It is simple enough to reproduce here:

My basic roast chicken recipe is the same as my mother's: I stick half a lemon up its bottom, smear some oil or butter on its breast, sprinkle it with a little salt, and put it in a 400 degrees F oven for about 15 minutes per pound plus 10 minutes.

Which is how I came to be standing in my kitchen at around 7 p.m., doing something faintly indelicate to a chicken with a bit of citrus.

Actually, I elaborated on Nigella's recipe a bit - I sprinkled the chicken with salt and pepper. I'm a culinary daredevil, I tell you. Then I plunked the chicken down breast side up on a rack in a roasting pan, put a bit of butter on the breast, and popped it in the oven.

I also ignored Nigella's advice to use an organic, free-range chicken. I'd like to try that sometime, to see how much difference it really does make, but due to one thing and another, I didn't actually go shopping for my chicken until 6 o'clock this evening, which dictated running to the nearest grocery store and grabbing the most convenient chicken to hand: a Foster Farms bird, which at least means that it's locally raised and not pumped full of additives.

This recipe makes the house smell heavenly. Really. I think I'll be tempted to roast chickens just for the smell.

It came out rather well. The meat was juicy and tender, and the skin was crispy and tasty. I've frozen the carcass to make stock with, and I'll probably use the leftover meat to make a nice chicken salad later.

So, I've finally roasted a chicken. Now I'll have to think of some new culinary milestone to shoot for.

Posted by spaceling at 09:45 PM

Farmers' Market Haul - 2/5

No picture today. I didn't get to the farmers' market until 11:00 a.m., by which time things were considerably picked over and most of the stalls were looking a bit bare. The mushroom lady was there, though, so I did get some nice crimini mushrooms. I also got a bunch of red chard, and some beets. (It felt a bit strange to be buying both chard and beets, since chard is just a beet that is cultivated for its leaves rather than its roots. Perhaps I should try cooking the beet greens as well, and see how they compare.)

Total expenditure: $5.75.

Posted by spaceling at 07:32 PM | TrackBack