Tuesday, March 27, 2007

basmati rice with yogurt and lime pickle

basmati rice, buttermilk & lime pickle

When it comes to cooking, lazy I am not. And I’m a full believer in those little details, so it’s not uncommon for me to run all over Manhattan and beyond to pick out the perfect ingredients for whatever meal I am currently making. Meat at a green market? Herring in Brighton? Locally produced milk at Fairway?

Some people, when they cook, just see what they have on hand in the kitchen and whip up something. This is how my mother and grandmother have cooked – and they’ve managed to do plenty with that approach. I, on the other hand, will clip a recipe and make sure I have every ingredient on hand for it. I’ll plan to make X on day Y and hold myself to that schedule. I can certainly cook free-style, but there’s something about following a recipe that excites me.

Continue reading basmati rice with yogurt and lime pickle.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

pissaladiere

the power of sprat

We’ve barely had two days of spring, and I’ve been just itching with ideas for new projects. With the move almost behind me, I’ve focused on unpacking and settling in as quickly as possible. And I’m almost there too! Between KS and me, efficiency is our shared strong suit. And with some time on my hands while KS is in sunny Mustique next week enjoying things like the beach and fish tea, I am eager to get started with all things spring.

Like plant some herbs on our patio. And maybe a few flowers. I’ve got zero landscaping skills, but I am going to do a little research and digging on my trusty friend, the internet, and hopefully come up with some easy, cost-effective solutions. And of course, with my gardening project in mind, I’ve also shifted gears in my food cravings and consumption. My winter cravings for root vegetables and hearty stews is all but gone and my cravings are for all things fresh, crisp, spring-like.

Whenever I think of spring, I think of Provence with its fields of flowering lavender, outdoor tables with little bowls of olives and freshly baked bread with thick salted crusts. Provençal food, to me, is a real reminder of the vernal season, though I cannot justify the association.

And so with spring on my mind, and in my step, I decided to make something I’ve always enjoyed rather gluttonously, yet never attempted to make – a pissaladière. Pissaladière comes from Pissalat — a provençal condiment made of puréed anchovies mixed with some herbs and olive oil and spread on the pastry dough. I was inspired by Béa’s beautiful pictures and writing over a month ago and was looking for a perfect occasion to craft one myself.

caramelized & ready to go

I must note a few things here that might help you in your own preparation of this dish. For one, I think that the pastry dough should be made and not bought. I say this only because the store-bough version I had was lovely, but not breathtaking. Like a picture-frame that could make or break a picture, the pastry in this case was good, but not great. And so in my next take on this dish, which turned out really great, I will make my own pastry dough, recipe yet to be determined.

The onions take longer to cook than the recipe suggested. I cooked them rather slowly (as not to burn them) for about 45 minutes. And for my own, odd, taste preferences I omitted the garlic. I know, I know – you’re probably thinking you did what?!?!?!? But I’d thought (and I don’t regret making this choice one bit) that I wanted the onions, caramelized and sweet with some salt to give them edge, to be the stars of this show. And maybe the anchovies playing the supporting role.

twenty minutes away from baked bliss

A propos anchovies, another note. I couldn’t find any in our cupboards. But it’s entirely possible I didn’t know where to look (as I often miss things right in front of my very nose). But my mother did send me back to New York once, with a few Russian store goodies, including a can of sprats. Sprats are apparently little species of herring that are often packed in oil, much like sardines. I quite like them, having grown up with eating them right on thick slices or dark, Russian bread with pieces of onion.

And you know what? The sprats worked gloriously well – giving a slightly salty edge to the sweetness of the onions. And the little Niçoise olives completed the flavors quite nicely.

smelling of spring and sea

And so the three of us, KS, a friend, and myself, enjoyed this little rite of spring, sipping Riesling and enjoying the night. And though KS and I went to bed rather late, by our school-night standards, we were full and content, and delighted in good company and a favorable change in season.

Perhaps, to give Provence its due course, I should think of planting some lavender upstairs – the next best thing to actually being in Provence in the springtime.

Continue reading pissaladiere.

Monday, March 19, 2007

corned beef

corned beef with cabbage, potatoes and carrots

I have, on a number of occasions, claimed that give me a holiday having nothing to do with my culture, throw some good food in it, and I’ll be more than happy to celebrate it just for the food of it. A few people in the past raised their eye brows at me when I told my stories of lamb roasts over Easter weekend, or trying (albeit unsuccessfully) to make aloo ghobi over Divali. My own favorite holiday, Thanksgiving comes with my favorite dishes, plenty of them, and a table full of friends. Interestingly enough, I quickly grew to love Thanksgiving and kind of forced it on my family. And now my mother kind of even likes it. But I digress.

after the bath

I realize that there’s just about as much Irish in me as was in Golda Meir, and I’ve never even visited the Emerald Isle. And even despite the fact that in my heart, I always felt a little Irish, with what, my love of Guinness, Irish music, my favorite writers are all Irish (Joyce, Wilde, Yates, Shaw, Thomas Lynch), cabbage and potatoes (undoubtedly stemming from my Russian upbringing) and whiskey; I cannot, rightly, lay claim to the heritage, being its eager admirer nonetheless. And yet, despite all that, when KS emailed me about making corned beef and cabbage with mustard for dinner Friday night, I leapt at the opportunity, immediately researching the recipes online. Give me slow-cooked tender meat that has been braising in the oven for hours on end, and I’m a happy girl.

corned beef ready for slicing

If any of you reading this are New Yorkers, you will probably remember Friday as the worst weather day in the history of winter 2006-2007. I don’t even know what that was that fell from the sky, but I’ve never seen anything quite so nasty. Microscopic icicles? A new strain of sleet? Spiked, armed snowflakes?

Nursing a cold and a Rudolph-red nose, the last thing I was looking forward to doing is going to Whole Foods and picking up the ingredients for our Irish-pride feast. But KS, being a gentleman and world’s most glorious boyfriend, did it for me, picking up a succulent cut of corned beef brisket from Bazzini along with a few other ingredients.

introducing - the savoy

As soon as I came home from the office, I got immediately to work around starting around 5:30pm, and by 9:30pm we had ourselves a simple, Irish meal, so delicious, we regretted not buying a larger brisket so that we could have leftovers or make it into corned beef hash (but we later decided that not only are we going to make this again soon, we’re going to brine the brisket ourselves – ha!).

kicking it up a notch

The four hours of waiting was worth every minute. And while corned beef with potatoes & cabbage is one of the simplest, easiest things to make (I still cannot believe how little effort it took and how good it tasted), it has an honesty to it that is filling, satisfying and comforting. While the weather outside was frightful, we, wrapped in fleece and wool, ate on the couch, watching the Empire Strikes Back, and gobbling up our food. The only thing missing from our dinner was soda bread, but given the fact that I just learned the soda bread I have known and liked in the past is apparently an impostor, maybe that’s okay. The authentic version sounds a bit unappetizing.

So okay, I’m not Irish by blood, but perhaps being a little Irish at heart is acceptable? And while on Saturday, I didn’t imbibe(colds and beer rarely go hand in hand), I did pick up a tome of Yates and read a few poems.

Continue reading corned beef.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

world peace cookies – korova cookies

world peace contained

Ever since I’ve become an avid 24 devotee, I’ve been far more sensitive to phrases that contain the word “nuclear” in them. And it doesn’t help that Fox News totally exploits that just-right-after-24-paranoia that sets in when you start thinking that everyone’s out to get you.

Usually, though not always, the word is linked to either Iran, or North Korea. Sometimes, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s name comes up, sometime it doesn’t. For someone who is politically aware, yet for some reason has trouble pronouncing the name Ahmadinejad, (AH-MA-DI-NE-JAD – I think I got it, maybe) I find wars and war terminology polarizing.

On the one hand, the history geek in me, realizes that wars have happened historically and however unfortunate are a way of social development. Or at least they have been in the past. On the other hand, I shudder at what damage war can do to a generation. The sacrifice it takes. And how, no matter what we say, whether or not we are in support or against any war, those who fight and come back are still underappreciated by the rest of us, who have no approximation of what it’s like out there.

With that in mind, I have quite the desire to make a super huge batch of these cookies, that have been making their way around the blogosphere and dispatch it to Ahmadinejad as well as Kim Jong-il. I’ll put them in pretty tins, include the recipes, and perhaps try to convince them that if they shift production to these cookies instead of nuclear whatevers, their economy will prosper – everyone in the world will want to buy their cookies (because let’s face it, there’s only a handful of us with baking fetishes).

world peace cookies - waiting for heat

Whether or not this is effective, I, myself, feel subdued and somewhat floating when I have these with a glass of milk. I went through an entire batch in 2 days. And while KS had a few cookies here and there (he’s not as much of a chocolate freak as I am, tant pis!), the damage done was pretty much by me. And while these might not be good for the waistline, they are certainly good for the soul. Various bloggers have been making them and hailing them as world’s greatest cookies. And at first, I was on the fence, skeptical and unsure. I mean, how good could they really be?

Well, I hate to say I was wrong to doubt the praise, but I was wrong. These cookies are the greatest things invented in cookie land – so dark and rich the chocolate, they’re frighteningly and unfairly good.

And while I might not find success with stopping world nuclear armament, I find myself more congenial to mankind after I have a few of these little circles of perfection.

World peace? Perhaps not overnight, but maybe as bloggers all over the world circulate these cookies, who knows, the joke might turn into a reality.

Continue reading world peace cookies – korova cookies.