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.

 

An Unintentional Recipe Shuffle and Other Weekend Goodies

This post is a bit of a jumble. I guess the common theme here is how wonderful my friend are in partaking in foodie adventures with me.

You may have noticed that last week featured Theresa’s Slow Cooker Spaghetti Bolognese.  Recipe Shuffle time!  It looked delicious, she had good things to say about it, it had her son’s stamp of approval, and it would be easy to bring together at the end of the day when Chris was coming home from work–all winning traits in my book!  So I tried it, taking into account her suggestion of adding more herbs.  I added about 2 tablespoons of Italian Seasoning while I was browning the meat.  (I think I should have either used Penzey’s seasoning, which I didn’t have on hand, or added it at a different time. I still could have used more of an herby punch.) I also should have taken her suggestion about adding salt.  I was hesitant after cooking the bacon, thinking that would be enough salt. I was wrong.  (Next time, Resa, I promise to trust you completely. 🙂 )  That being said, it was pretty fabulous, and Little Miss had seconds, so she seemed to agree. I will definitely be making it again!

Speaking of best friends and awesome food, another best friend, Vanessa, was in town this weekend for a family reunion, and she was able to make some time for us on lunch both Saturday and Sunday. We made the most of those opportunities, loving the company, of course, but also the food. Saturday we braved the permanent drizzle to check out Squirrel Hill’s sidewalk sale and the Mac and Gold Food Truck.  I’m a sucker for mac and cheese, so I would like to think I know a good mac and cheese when I eat one…and this was good.  The base mac and cheese was rich and full of real cheese, the perfect balance of creaminess and sharpness. We all got different things with it, which were prepared well and served on top.  I got asparagus, spinach, and roasted red pepper, but I also tried Chris’s roasted brussels sprouts and bacon.  Delicious!

We also spend Sunday sampling some exotic favorites. I’ve been craving Green Pepper’s bibimbap, so we checked them out for lunch (and found a great little consignment shop along the way. We stopped in because Vanessa liked the pants in the window.  She walked out of there with a dress and I got four shirts, so I would say it was a successful trip!).  The bibimbap was fabulous, as always, with great fresh ingredients, rice that got perfectly crispy along the sides of the hot stone bowl, and delicious pieces of bulgogi (Korean barbequed beef).  And then we came back and shared delicate French macarons from Gaby et Jules patisserie, which are just beyond words.  A wonderful shared foodie experience!

So far, this week looks a bit more tame on the food front–maybe a trip to the Pittsburgh Public market and baking something for Chris’s company picnic on Thursday, but otherwise, pretty average. We’ll see how it ends up, though–you never do know around here!  Coming soon, to continue the friends and foodie adventures, will be some notes on a new restaurant…with a new kind of coffee. Stay tuned!

Another Successful First: Cherry Pie

I especially enjoy success baking firsts, as they necessarily end in something delicious.

Two weekends ago, we took care of our neighbors’ dog, Dottie. As a thank you, they brought back a handmade, hand painted pie plate they picked up at an arts festival they went to. It’s a pretty little plate, cream-colored glaze with blue dragonflies painted on to it, and only about half as big as a traditional pie plate.IMG_1034

So last weekend, I put it to good use and made a cherry pie with those amazing cherries I was raving about a few posts ago. It was a bit of work—making the dough, pitting the cherries, rolling out the dough—but the end product was great! I love a good cherry pie, and this was the best.  Between the pectin in the cherries and the corn starch, the pie held together perfectly, no filling oozing out into the pie dish.  And it was absolutely packed with delicious sweet cherries.  A wonderful little bite of summer.

IMG_1037

Okay, I’ll be honest: the dough wasn’t perfect. It was a bit more chewy than flaky, especially on the bottom.  (This was even more pronounced the second day.)  I blame myself for not reading the recipe closely enough and adding too much water, then trying to cover it up by adding some more flour and probably over-kneading the dough in the process.  Despite all that, the taste was still buttery and delicious, especially the bits along the crust.  In a store-bought crust, I always end up tossing those bits.  Without the fruity goodness of the filling, those crusts are just dry and uninteresting.  But this crust was one of the best bites–the taste of browned butter, a little crisp, mingled with the sweetness of the cherries.

And the small size of our pie dish means we can eat it, relish it, and finish it before it goes stale or before we tire of it.

(Though it would be hard to tire of something this good!)

IMG_1039

Here’s the recipe at Smitten Kitchen.  I used her pie dough recipe, too.  I’m sure if you actually followed what she said to do, your crust would be that much more amazing than mine. 🙂

Sprouts and Seeds

This is the reason I watch Good Eats.

Okay, that’s not really accurate.  I also watch it because it’s entertaining and I like learning.  So let me rephrase that: this is how watching Good Eats pays off in tasty, healthy ways.

I wanted to make beets the other night, but Chris couldn’t find any fresh beets at the grocery store.  What he did find was Brussels sprouts on the stalk, and, remembering that Alton said that’s the best time to get them, he picked them up.  And, not quite remembering how to store them and how he recommended cooking them, I went back and watched the episode to get the low-down on this little cabbage.  I then used inspiration from Alton’s show (and the recipe we made before that was so tasty) and combined it with the best preparation of Brussels sprouts that I’ve ever had, a fried sprout with bacon and balsamic glaze at Root 174.  I tried to recreate it–and while I was only partially successful in duplicating it, I did come up with a pretty tasty side dish!

Yesterday, I was feeling adventurous, so during my trip down the street to the grocery store, I picked up two pomegranates.  And then I went back and watched Alton’s episode on them to refresh my memory on how in the world I was supposed to get to the edible bits.  (They were delicious, by the way.  Every time I walked by the kitchen while they were drying on the counter, I ate another handful. And another.  And I’m looking forward to a bowlful at lunch today.)  I like feeling handy in the kitchen.  And I like feeling that, even with an infant and a minimal amount of time/flexibility to cook right now, I’ve still “got it.”

Here’s my Brussels sprouts preparation:

  1. Cut sprouts off of stalk, if necessary. Trim the end so it’s a perfect little sphere, then peel off any leaves that are brown, withered, etc. Cut in half.
  2. Put the sprouts and 1/2 to 1 cup of water in a pot (Alton recommends 1/2 for 1 pound of sprouts).  Cook over high heat so that the water boils for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, drain.  (This can be done ahead of time–like, during the morning when the little one is more amenable to being worn in her wrap.)
  3. When you’re ready to cook the sprouts, cut 3-6 rashers of bacon into small pieces.  Cook over medium-high heat until crispy.  Remove bacon from pan and set aside; drain some of the drippings, leaving about 2-3 Tbsp in the pan.
  4. Return the pan to the heat.  Toss in sprouts, cooking 5-10 minutes or until the sides are browning (and, ideally, a little crisp).
  5. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar and toss with the reserved bacon. Serve immediately.

Being Thankful: The Little Things

Thanksgiving morning found us in Pittsburgh for the first time ever, celebrating as a family of three.  (Well, a family of three humans at least.  A family of four if you count the furry one.)  But it was a sunny morning, and while the little one slept, a bit tentatively, and while Chris took a turn holding her, I started in on making my first Thanksgiving feast.  I had taken advice from my favorite Food Network celebrities and made a timeline of what needed to get done and when, and my morning was to be dedicated to chopping carrots, parsnips, squash, leeks, potatoes, and bread cubes.  And so, I tested out my new little speakers, turned on The White Album, and got to work.

And lo and behold, when Chris and the slightly-fussy little one came in to check on me, and she heard the music and got into the warm sunniness of the kitchen, she settled down, alert but listening contentedly.  So we put her in her little chair and we did what we do best–we got to cooking together.  Eventually, she was done with the chair and ready to be held, so she and I danced around the kitchen, humming along to the Beatles and keeping Chris company while he finished up the chopping.

Later, the house would be filled with the smells of a home–the warm spices of the pumpkin pie, the rich herbiness of the turkey.  And even later than that, our table was full of delicious food.  The new recipes and preparations we tried were all winners.  The turkey was moist and flavorful, the stuffing was indeed sweet and savory, and all of the herbs in all of the dishes played off of each other wonderfully.

We had a beautiful morning, and I’m thankful for that warm moment in the kitchen, a glimmer of perfection.  I’m thankful for my beautiful little family, and for the wonderful food we shared together.  I’m thankful that we made the time to cook together again, and I can’t wait for the time when the little one will be able to join in–snapping green beans, stirring cookie dough, learning her way around the kitchen, and generally being a part of how much her mommy and daddy love creating and experiencing good food together.  I’m thankful for the day’s unseasonable sunshine and warm weather, our walk around the neighborhood, and (finally!) getting to dive in to the last of the beers we brought back from our honeymoon.  I’m thankful for the friends and family who called, texted, and were thinking of us, those who enriched the holiday and our lives.  I’m thankful for today, and I can’t wait for the tomorrows to come.

Our menu:
Herb-roasted turkey breast
Sweet and savory stuffing with root vegetables
Mashed potatoes
Asparagus
Gravy
Cranberry sauce
Pumpkin pie
Gueuze (Belgian lambic beer)

A whole bunch of new recipes with a very autumnal theme

Call me lazy.  Or just really busy.  But I’m going to mush my five (yes–five!) new recipes we’ve tried in the past three weeks or so into one gargantuan post.  But each individual review will be fairly short.  I’ve been slacking on my camera duties when we’re done cooking, and for most of them, I followed the recipe exactly, so there’s not going to be too much to say.  Ready for my delicious fall spread?

The first thing we made, and this was a while ago, was this Chicken and Vegetable Lasagna.  I won’t lie–this was time consuming.  It wasn’t hard, but there was a fair amount of chopping and cooking even before we could put the whole thing in the oven for 45 minutes.  That being said, it was delicious!  It was rich and creamy and chickeny, very different from a traditional lasagna and a little bit heavier.  The vegetables were great–I was generous with the amounts that I used, and I might even use a bit more next time.  The one definite change we would make is either cooking the chicken whole and then shredding it, or maybe even just using a rotisserie chicken.  The pieces we cut to saute were too large, which made it a bit difficult to eat.  Shredding into smaller pieces would be the way to go.  Another plus to this dish?  It makes a lot, so there were lots of leftovers–and it reheated well for another dinner or for a hearty lunch.

Next up was these Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies.  I needed something to bring to a departmental work day at school.  Last year I made pumpkin hummus and it was a huge hit, so I felt like there was some pressure to deliver something good!  (I could have brought the hummus again, but how predictable would that be?)  I found these cookies and thought they looked like a nice fall treat, and they definitely were!  They stayed nice and soft, and there was a hint of pumpkin without it being overwhelming.  I liked the tartness of the cranberry and the sweetness of the white chocolate; Chris said he thought they’d be better with dark chocolate.  I think that could certainly work…but he also just isn’t a huge fan of white chocolate.  Oh, and as a side note, this recipe makes a lot of cookies!  I probably ended up with 3 dozen respectably-sized cookies.  I’m glad I didn’t decide to double it!

Next on our list of culinary adventures was this Chicken Noodle Soup.  We have a bunch of homemade chicken stock in the freezer, but for some reason, I’m waiting for the “perfect” opportunity to use it.  So, I thought I would try to recipe for chicken soup and see if it still provided a flavorful enough base, even with just simmering for an hour.  And the answer?  I added a little bit of Penzey’s chicken soup base to ramp up the flavor, but with that extra boost, it absolutely did!  This soup was fantastic.  Flavorful and filling, stuffed with tender meat and fresh vegetables and lots of noodles.  Comfort food at its best.

Our next endeavor was one that took a little more effort on our parts.  We kept putting it off because our weeknights have been late and hectic, and who wants to eat dinner at 8:30 on a school night?  On a Friday, though?  That’s apparently okay.  So on Friday we undertook this Pumpkin Risotto.  The recipe calls for scallops and candied pancetta (which I’m sure would be delightful), but we opted for a roasted pork tenderloin, something we could season, throw in the oven, and not worry about while we busied ourselves with the risotto.  The risotto was wonderfully creamy and delightfully pumpkin-y, and I really liked it with the pork.  There are two adjustments I would make to the recipe, if you’re thinking of trying it.  First, we were lazy and opted not to blend up the pumpkin puree and butter–and we couldn’t tell the difference.  As long as you melt the butter in a little at a time and make sure it’s mixed up really well, I don’t think the blending is necessary.  Save yourself the extra dishes!  Second, make sure you taste the risotto for doneness before adding the pumpkin puree and the final ingredients.  We didn’t do this–we should have known better–and we ended up with slightly al dente rice.  It probably could have used another ladleful of broth.

The final fall recipe I’ve got to share with you is for your weekend mornings, something to munch while you curl up with a warm beverage of your choice.  Check out these Pumpkin gingerbread biscotti.  (If you’re fall-crazy like I apparently am this year, one large can of pumpkin should see you through the oatmeal cookies, the risotto, and a double batch of the biscotti.)  I made them yesterday as a splurge to myself–besides, I had all of the necessary ingredients, so I considered it something like fate.  I was initially a bit concerned about all the spices, but the cookie’s flavor isn’t too heavily spiced at all.  And the smell as they’re cooking?  Amazing.  (Chris came in from walking the dog and pronounced that it smelled like home.)  I think I skimped a little on the first cooking time, and so my cookies could be a little firmer.  Another change I made that might have thrown the texture a bit was chopping the walnuts and adding them right to the batter, along with a dollop of extra pumpkin because the batter was so dry, I couldn’t get all of the flour incorporated.  I was going to mix in white chocolate chips, too, but I forgot, so I “iced” them with white chocolate after they cooled.  They don’t look as pretty as the picture on the website, but they’re still really tasty.

*Phew!* So, that’s my fall rundown.  For now, at least.  I hope if you’re looking for something with an autumnal twist that you can find something here that you’d like to try!

Preserving the End of Summer

Sorry about the long writing hiatus, folks.  Of course I’d pause the blogging over the summer, only to pick back up during the school year when I have things to grade and prepping to do and all that other great stuff, right?  As such, (and as life is soon going to get much crazier than ever), these posts will certainly be infrequent, but I recently ran into something too good to not share.

Throughout the summer, our tomato plants had been dragging.  I saw the green fruits, but they weren’t doing anything.  Then, all of a sudden, about two weeks ago, we had an overabundance of tomatoes.  But of course, by that point in time, summer was dragging to a close, I was back in school, and I was out of the summery eat-all-the-tomatoes-I-can mood.  I didn’t know what to do with them.  So, I found this lovely way to preserve all that great flavor for another day!

Check out how I did it, courtesy of from Gina at SkinnyTaste.com: Oven Roasted Tomatoes.

We made a small batch and had it with pasta, and we liked it so much that we made another, larger batch and froze it for later.  I’m hoping I might possibly be able to squeeze one more batch out of my tomato plants before they give up for the fall.  There were two adjustments (especially the second time around) I made to the original recipe that I thought helped.  I found it difficult to get the tomatoes off of my baking dish if they were flesh-side down; it worked better for me if they were skin-side down.  I may have sacrificed a bit of flavor that way, but I had more tomato to work with.  Second, I don’t know how she was able to keep her tomatoes in the oven for 30 minutes!  After 15 minutes the first time around, I set off the smoke alarm.  The second batch was much larger, but it still only took about 20 minutes total–I turned the pan halfway through.  I’d set the timer for 10 minutes and check on them before assuming they’ll take the full half hour.

If you’ve got leftover tomatoes, or your local farmers’ market has some stragglers left, this is such a delicious way to capture that summer flavor.  Absolutely worth checking out.  I can’t wait to do this again next year–it’s just that good! 🙂

 

In Which Pinterest Makes Me the Star of the Picnic

Okay, so that’s more than a slight exaggeration.  But still.  The end of the school year was defined by Pinterest recipes for my gatherings, and both of them were a pretty big hit!

First up, this orzo salad.  I made this for our faculty picnic, and it was wonderful.  I was inspired to “pin it” and then try it because Giant Eagle makes this wonderful orzo salad that I can’t pass up any time I see it, and this recipe looked a lot like it.  It tasted similar–perhaps even better–and I will absolutely be making it again.  It was a great picnic contribution, and the leftovers worked really well as a side dish, too.  I used kalamata olives instead of green, but otherwise, all ingredients were the same.  Actually…that’s not entirely true.  I doubled the amount of dressing, partly because recipes never seem to dress things quite enough for me, partly because I had a grand orzo mishap.  The first batch of orzo that I made went mostly down the drain–literally–because it slipped right through the holes in my pasta strainer.  Not one of my shining moments.  Luckily, I had bought a second package of orzo, but neither package was the amount called for in the recipe, so I just guesstimated.  Still turned out pretty tasty, though!

The second and final dish for today is these cheesecake cookies.  I brought these to a post-graduation gathering at a friend’s house, and they were pretty decadently delicious.  We used both cherry pie filling in some and blueberry in the others; the cherry was definitely my favorite.  And, amazingly, they really do taste just like little mini cheesecakes!  They were rather difficult to transport, and slightly difficult to eat, because they were fairly soft, though apparently they should be stored in the refrigerator, which has the added benefit of firming them up a bit, too–that’s an important note for next time.  They were rather time-consuming, but so tasty!

Pinterest, you may be my  new (dangerous but oh-so-creative) cooking buddy.

A Simple Burrito, but So Delicious

This is just a quick post to share what might become a favorite summer recipe this year.  Chris and I tried this recipe for Vegetable and Rice Burritos a few weeks ago, and we liked it so much that we turned around and made it right away again the next week.  (This was made especially possible because the amount of ingredients that the recipe calls for left plenty to make it again–we still had half a zucchini, half of a container of sour cream, plenty of cheese and tortillas, etc.)  The recipe doesn’t sound like a big deal.  In fact, we almost didn’t try it, but I was just looking for something different and didn’t feel like making a meat dish, so we “settled.”  But it was truly a recipe where the whole was far greater than the sum of its parts.  Once they were cooked up, the cheese melted and the sour cream worked its way throughout, and everything just melded wonderfully.  Chris didn’t even miss the meat!

I’ll just link up to the recipe, as we really didn’t change anything.  For those of you who might be concerned about the heat (I’m looking at you, Mom…), while it wasn’t really too hot because of the sour cream, I imagine you could omit the jalapeno and could probably substitute some fresh parsley for the cilantro.  Also, we used a shredded Mexican blend of cheeses, as I can’t have the soft cheeses right now.  It was probably significantly cheaper and still made for a great burrito.

Check it out: Vegetable and Rice Burrito with Quesadilla Cheese from Cooking Light Magazine

The Hunger Games Lamb Stew

My mouth has gone as dry as sawdust. I desperately find Cinna in the crowd and lock eyes with him. I imagine the words coming from his lips. “What’s impressed you the most since you arrived here?” I rack my brain for something that made me happy here. Be honest, I think. Be honest.

“The lamb stew,” I get out.

Caesar laughs, and vaguely I realize some of the audience has joined in.

“The one with the dried plums?” asks Caesar. I nod. “Oh, I eat it by the bucketful.” He turns sideways to the audience in horror, hand on his stomach. “It doesn’t show, does it?”

This Saturday, I had a chance to celebrate some good YA literature and transport Chris and myself to Katniss’s trip to the Capitol for the 74th Hunger Games.  I found this recipe (and the excerpt you see above from the book) on FictionalFood.net, where the author has modified a recipe from Julia Child to fit some of the parameters of Katniss’s favorite meal.  I picked it for this weekend, thinking it would be a fun little experiment and thinking that I would feel quite literary.  We couldn’t fit any reasonably-priced lamb, so we bought some stewing beef and figured we would make it work.  And, I must say, I was blown away by the deliciousness of this dish. I expected it to be more for fun than anything, but it was awesome!

First, the flavor.  It was really layered–and I think a large part of that came from my addition of Penzey’s beef soup base.  Before adding that, it was kind of one-dimensional, but the soup base added depth to it.  And the plums at the end gave just a little sweetness to it.  I all but licked my dish clean.  Next, the texture.  The meat cooked for long enough to be nice and tender, despite my initial misgivings after heating it in the pan for a few minutes.  It looked kind of tough and rubbery, but while it didn’t end up fall-apart tender, it was still very good.  And the sauce was fabulous–a thick gravy filled with meat, potatoes, and carrots.  The flour really did its job in bringing it all together.  I was so pleasantly surprised with this.  I can’t wait to make it again.  (Oh, the other lovely thing?  It made so much food, I actually put half of it in the freezer!  I hope it freezes well, because I’m looking forward to enjoying this for many more meals!)

Here’s FictionalFood.net’s recipe with my adjustments:

  • 3 lbs beef, cubed
  • 2-3 tbsp cooking oil
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 21-28 ounces beef broth
  • 3 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp dried (or 1 sprig fresh) rosemary, leaves crushed
  • 2 tsp crushed savory leaves
  • 3 tsp Penzey’s beef soup base
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup frozen or fresh peas
  • about 12 dried plums cut in half

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 475 degrees.
  2. Heat oil in a skillet and brown meat. Transfer to dutch oven as pieces cook.
  3. Sprinkle sugar on browned meat. Cook meat for several minutes on medium high heat to caramelize sugar.
  4. Toss meat with flour until well coated. Place pot in oven uncovered for 5 minutes. Toss meat around and cook for another 5 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees.
  5. Add 21 oz of beef broth, tomato paste, rosemary, and savory leaves. Cover and cook on bottom third of the oven for 1 hour.
  6. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Add beef soup base and stir in well.  Add carrots, potatoes, and more broth if needed.
  7. Cover and return pot to oven for another hour. After 30 minutes, add dried plums. Once done, taste and season as needed.
  8. On the stovetop, boil peas for 1-2 minutes. Drain and add to stew just before serving.
  9. Serve on wild rice, if you’re feel authentic to the book. Eat by the bucketful.