Cheese-making, and a Paarti in my kitchen

One of the only things I asked for on my birthday this year was Aarti Sequeira’s new cookbook, Aarti Paarti.  I’ve been an avid fan since Next Food Network Star when she won me over with her ideas, her charm, and, according to the judges, at least, her delicious food.  When she got her show on Food Network, I actually set my alarm for 7:30 or whatever silly hour on a Saturday so I could watch her show at 8.  And I experimented with her recipes and found some that have become go-to recipes for us (or at least ones we know we’ll enjoy whenever we make them!).  Bombay Sloppy Joes, massaged kale salad with mango, chicken tikka masala, parsnip chips, garam masala granola, Bahn-mi wraps…they’re favorites.

So I’ve been super excited to get her new cookbook and try out some more recipes! And it didn’t disappoint.  The weekend I got it, I actually read it cover to cover, which sounds crazy for a cookbook, but it was an enjoyable pursuit.  First of all, the cookbook is beautiful. It’s glossy, full-color, with a picture for every recipe.  And at the start of each section, Aarti writes a bit about her life, her experiences, or her family. Just beautifully done.

We tried one new recipe almost immediately, the Moroccan carrot salad.  (It was really tasty, though personally, I would have added a squeeze of honey.  It calls for lemons, orange rind, and orange juice, and I would have preferred the balance with a hint of sweetness.) And then, I got daring.

I made my own cheese. IMG_1894

Seriously.  I decided that if I was going to make Saag Paneer, I was going to do it right. I had a bunch of farmers’ market kale in my fridge and far too much ambition in my little head, so I made my own paneer.

It was a really neat experience! It took forever for the milk to boil, but once it did and I added the lemon juice, it immediately started separating into curds and whey. And then I drained it, shaped it, and set it aside. (Aarti says to put the block of cheese between two plates, with something heavy on top. This is the best we could concoct/balance…)

Two days later, we made the rest of the dish. I would have liked a little more sauce on it, and I didn’t think it worked very well with the rice I made. Without the sauce, the dish as a whole was a little dry, and the texture of the rice and the paneer didn’t seem to complement each other. Maybe a naan or other kind of bread would have worked better. That being said, the paneer was absolutely the star of the dish. The texture was delicate, soft, with a little bit of browning on two of the sides. The flavor was fresh and light, working well with the greens. I am absolutely going to have to make the paneer again–I’m hoping to find a good recipe for Matar Paneer (with features a tomato-based sauce and peas).IMG_1900

So, overall, I would declare my first foray into cheese-making a success, and I have Aarti and her new cookbook to thank for it! I’m looking forward to continuing my journey through Indian cooking with some of the rest of her recipes in her beautiful book.

 

Busy weeks, but still keeping up part of my resolution…

And the part of my resolution I’m stubbornly keeping up? Trying new recipes.  Though my schedule and stress level might appreciate a night off more than a new recipe, I’m still at it.  I think part of me just can’t help it–I like trying new things, and I view it as a challenge to keep our meals as diverse as possible.

I also like the challenge of working with farmers’ market goodies. I hadn’t been to the market in a few weeks, and it was fun to come home with things like pasta, peppers, zucchini, kale, carrots, and spaghetti squash…and then have to decide how to use them.

So, here’s what we’ve been eating:

Last week:

  • Monday: Leftover macaroni and cheese, green beans
  • Tuesday: Sloppy Bombay Joes, broccoli slaw
  • Wednesday: Chicken Tamale Pie (another new one! And definitely a keeper!)
  • Thursday: (This was supposed to be something new, but ended up being leftover Sloppy Joes)
  • Friday: Leftovers. I don’t even remember. I think we might have reheated the chicken tamale pie?

This week:

  • Sunday: (bonus day! only because I have to brag…) Burgers on the grill, grilled zucchini, and Moroccan carrot salad
  • Monday: Pumpkin ravioli and butternut squash ravioli in a cream sauce
  • Tuesday: Cherry balsamic pork, roasted potatoes, vegetable
  • Wednesday: Saag paneer
  • Thursday: Roasted chicken, cinnamon apples, and green beans
  • Friday: Spaghetti squash with sausage

 

A “Nu” Adventure, or, The Advantages of Living in Squirrel Hill

We set out last weekend to check out a restaurant that we hadn’t been to yet, Everyday Noodles. We were excited, we had done some research online and had some ideas about what to get, and we had Anna and her booster seat and we were all set.  Unfortunately, I had a lot of work to do over the weekend and I was hard at work all afternoon, so we were also setting out about half an hour later than we had initially planned, getting to the restaurant right around the prime time of 6:15.

When we got there, people were waiting outside in the chairs on the sidewalk.  Multiple large groups of people.  There was a 30 minute wait. And thirty minutes doesn’t work when you have an antsy toddler.

And so, we walked. Where else could we check out?, we asked ourselves. There’s a new ramen place, but that would be a little tough for Little Miss to eat. The new Thai place looked too fancy, and Sun Penang also looked pretty busy.  Then Chris suggested a place we had been talking about a few weeks ago, a place that has been around for a while now but that we’ve never had a chance to check out: Nu.  They call themselves a “Modern Jewish Bistro.”  So, not really having any idea what to expect, we turned down Murray and went to check it out.

And I am so glad we did! I’ll say it was “unexpectedly delicious,” not because I didn’t think they would do a good job with the food, but rather because we went on a whim and with absolutely no expectations or ideas about what to get. And it was wonderful! It was more casual, a little tongue-in-cheek, and our server was friendly and fun. They were running brunch specials for the weekend, and everything looked great. I had a tough time deciding!

Chris got a smoked meat sandwich, piled high with tender, flavorful meat.  Sometimes corned beef and things like that can be a little chewy, but this just melted in your mouth. I got a brunch special (though I don’t think I would have wanted it as an actual morning food): an open-faced sandwich with carved turkey, tomato, thick-cut bacon, and cheddar-hollandaise sauce with a side of shoe-string sweet potato fries. The bacon was delicious, the turkey was tender and flavorful, and even the tomato was fresh and juicy.  Everything was so well done, I was really impressed!

We also ordered a plate of kishka, which our server described as a Jewish stuffing. It was more like a loaf than a stuffing, I would say, though, because I (obviously) didn’t get the chunks of bread that I think of when I think of stuffing. It’s matzo meal mixed with pureed vegetables like celery and carrot, grilled and topped with gravy. We could really taste the vegetable puree in it, making it a little more savory that we expected. It was great, and Little Miss couldn’t get enough of it.

I was sad we couldn’t try dessert (grilled cinnamon babka with apples? Or chocolate babka with ice cream? Yes, please!), but again–antsy toddler puts some limits on your dining experience. With casual fare that was so tasty, though, I look forward to going back again!

September’s New Recipe: Basil, Chicken, and Vegetable Curry

I’m already failing on one of my new (school) year’s resolutions. Finding recipes quick enough for weeknights is more of a challenge than I thought, due in part to the fact that this is a really busy time of year for my job and part to the fact that Little Miss is getting really tired out by her days in her new classroom at school. She comes home hungry and tired and ready for dinner, a bit of playing, and bed, and there’s not a lot of time for cooking in there. But I’ll figure it out–it just might take a bit.

As for my other resolution, though, I can check that off the list with great success. My new recipe for September was Basil, Chicken, and Vegetables in a Coconut-Curry Sauce. It was delicious, came together relatively quickly, and reheated well–an all-around win in my book!

There’s a bit of prep work, with cutting the pepper, snapping the beans, and slicing the chicken, but the whole recipe can be made in about the time it takes to make a pot of rice. And it is delicious. The sauce is smooth, rich, and flavorful. We’ve found on dishes like this in the past that it can be a little alarming to use whole-fat coconut milk–it’s best not to read the nutrition info on the back on the can.  However, we’ve also found that it is just not worth it to use the low-fat stuff, either.  The sacrifice you make in flavor and in texture…well, we figure, if we’re going to do it, we’re going to go all in and do it right.  Chris said this curry could have used a bit more heat (I omitted the Sriracha entirely); I didn’t miss it. I enjoyed mine with the cashews, thinking it added a really nice extra element to the dish; Chris preferred his without.  But we agreed that this is definitely a recipe we’ll make again!

(Sorry there’s no pictures. We were too busy eating to take any good ones!)

Keeping up the trend…

Just posting this for the record.  No Earth-shattering developments in the weekly dinner front, but it’s a way to keep myself “honest” in my meal-planning and my posting.  Here’s what’s been on our plates.  What’s the best thing that’s been on yours? I could use a little inspiration! :)

  • Monday: Labor Day–burgers on the grill and green beans.  I had grander plans, but Little Miss was having a tired, fussy night so we waited to cook our dinner until she went to bed. And then the grill took forever. And then it was 9:00 and we were just sitting down to eat…that’s never a good sign.  The burgers were great, though!
  • Tuesday: Raid-the-fridge leftover night (told you it wasn’t an exciting menu!)
  • Wednesday: Fish with zucchini, black bean, and rice skillet (we made a few adjustments this time that really made this recipe shine–some herbs, vegetable broth instead of water, and a can of fire-roasted tomatoes instead of plain)
  • Thursday: Basil, chicken, and vegetable curry (more on this one later)
  • Friday: Mushroom and fontina ravioli with a vegetable (probably green beans…we had so many of them.)

 

  • Monday: Pizza
  • Tuesday: Peach-balsamic pork with sweet potatoes and asparagus
  • Wednesday: Raid-the-fridge leftover night, since I had Open House at the middle school and wasn’t home for dinner
  • Thursday: Mushroom, asparagus, and white cheddar quiche
  • Friday: Meatloaf (thanks, mom!), frozen vegetable medley with potatoes, carrots, broccoli, and baby corn

 

 

The (Next) Best Thing I’ve Ever Made

(I can’t believe this never got posted! I think I was waiting on a picture, which sadly never happened.  I’ll post it now for your enjoyment.  Consider it a flashback to warmer, more relaxing times this summer…an apt description on a chilly, grey September morning.)

If the cherry chocolate chip ice cream I made earlier this summer was the best thing I ever made, this might be second best: peanut butter swirl ice cream. It’s rich, smooth, with just a little bit of stickiness from the peanut butter added at the last minute and little crunches of semisweet chocolate.

As with the cherry ice cream, it’s not for the faint of heart. It involves a fair amount of heating, tempering, heating, cooling, custard-making, peanut-butter-adding, and mixture-straining before you set it in the fridge to freeze. But it’s deliciously worth it.

I made a couple of adjustments to the recipe, and I would do the same next time. First, I omitted the chopped peanuts altogether.  Second, I like my peanut butter better with chocolate. So I tried the same trick that I learned with the cherry chocolate ice cream: I melted 3 ounces of semisweet chocolate over a double broiler, then slowly drizzled it in about 5 minutes before the ice cream was done churning.  Third, instead of mixing the peanut butter in after the machine stopped, I took the lazy route and dumped it in right before turning the machine off.  I let it swirl a bit and used a spatula to break up any giant clumps, then scooped the mixture into containers to freeze.  It might not have achieved quite as much of a “swirl”–it’s a little too blended in to be called a swirl–but it is fabulously peanut buttery.

Here’s the original recipe: Peanut Butter Swirl Ice Cream

Two Busy Weeks

We’ve been getting back into the swing of things here, which have made for a few busier weeks.  Since I measure years by the school calendar rather than by January through December, I’ve got a few food resolutions for my year.  One is to be better about finding good meals that can be made quickly. I need to focus on prepping things the night before and finding shortcuts in the kitchen so I can spend time in the afternoons with Little Miss. The second, which seems to run contrary to the first, is that I want to be better about trying new recipes during the school year. I’m setting my goal for one new recipe a month. We’ll see how that goes.  For now, here’s what we’ve been eating:

Last week:

  • Monday: Mexican chopped salad with chicken, cornbread
  • Tuesday: Farmers’ market pasta (ravioli with roasted red pepper pasta filled with smoked mozzarella), salad
  • Wednesday: Asian sesame tuna, sweet potatoes, corn on the cob
  • Thursday: Pecan-crusted pork (this is the recipe, but without the whole sauce and crostini thing), peach-mango chutney, sauteed squash, mashed potatoes
  • Friday: Chicken tikka masala, rice, broccoli

This week:

 

  • Monday: Roasted red pepper pasta with sauteed squash, red pepper, mushrooms, and corn, in an herb butter
  • Tuesday: Trying a new recipe! Kheema matar (an Indian dish of spiced ground beef and peas) with rice and roasted carrots
  • Wednesday: Little Miss’s summer party at daycare!
  • Thursday: Sesame-pecan chicken strips with sweet potatoes and green beans
  • Friday: Pork barbeque with skillet potatoes and broccoli slaw

 

Summer Lunching Out on the Porch

In honor of the first day of in-service work at my school, here’s a pic from last week of my favorite summer lunch: sweet, crispy corn fritters and fresh tomatoes. (The only thing that would make them better would be if they were home-grown. But I guess locally grown is the next best thing.) Added bonus: a cool enough day to enjoy my lunch on the porch with a book and the Fuzz.

IMG_1701[1]

Last week of summer (and of foodie freedom)

It’s been a busy week, and that’s not going to change once school starts. It’s going to be an adjustment, for sure, and I’ll have to change the way I think about dinner.  My goal this year, though, is to get better about prepping what I can for a meal the night before. The little one isn’t always so patient by the time Chris comes home, so it’ll be an experiment to see how we can work it out this upcoming year.

But those are thoughts for next week. This week, I had one last week having time to prep in the afternoons. Here’s what we ate:

Coming Full Circle

I had a little help in the kitchen while making last night’s dinner.

Okay, I had “help,” and then I had help. My fuzzy “helper” was trying to eat all the green beans that she could as soon as she thought I wasn’t looking.

My other little helper, while only slightly more coordinated, was very interested in green beans. As long as I kept a pile in front of her (with the ends already snapped off–she didn’t have the dexterity or understanding to snap ends, throw the ends out, and keep the good parts), she was happy to snap them into small pieces and put them in the pot for me.  When she ran out of beans in her pile, she got up, walked around to the other side of me where I had the colander of unsnapped beans, and got herself another handful.

All to end up with a pot of very unevenly snapped, but very lovingly prepared, green beans for dinner.

Suzy snapping beans photo