Hot plate hot problems

I don’t really know what the title of this post means. I only have a hot plate in my kitchen here, so I am going to be experimenting with Hot Plate Cooking. I haven’t even made the dish in question yet, so maybe it will be fantastic. Haaahahaha it will not.

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This picture has nothing to do with the post, I just like it. It’s from the Osh Bazaar.

Today I discovered a horrible truth: there are apartment-hunting websites far, far, far, far, far worse than Craigslist out there. Like, I am sitting here actively thinking I WISH THERE WERE CRAIGSLIST IN BISHKEK. This seems like a very bad sign just about life in general. (The ads here either don’t tell you where the apartment is or who the roommates are, or they want a girl who will pay no rent in exchange for making borsht.) Continue reading

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Spanish tortilla, aka food without cheese

Because I had a grotesque and horrible cold last week (well, I don’t know when I’m going to post this… so let’s just say sometime in the recent past), I needed a dinner recipe for the week that involved no cheese. This was very tragic for me. My first thought was something Asian, but ultimately I chose a Spanish tortilla, and then went to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe. (I was sick and in no mood for doing any further research.)

I first spent ninety-seven years slicing three enormous Yukon Gold potatoes (or U.K. Gold, if you are my supermarket and speak imperfect English) and one small onion. I can thereby attest that you should not make this on a weeknight unless you have a mandoline, which I do not. I am, however, an exemplary slicer. But it still took forever.

I cooked the potatoes and onion in a terrifying amount of oil

(most of it gets discarded later, though; so I now have a totally solidified Grey Poupon jar of potato-y, onion-y olive oil in my fridge) for about ten minutes; I should have done slightly less, since the pan I was using was far too big and thus most of the potatoes were in direct contact with the heat source. (SK tells us to use a nine-inch skillet, but I only have one skillet and it is enormous; I didn’t want to risk using a frying pan and having an eggsplosion. This seems like the sort of thing that would happen to me.)

I drained the oil using a colander over a bowl, added s&p, and let them cool a bit while I beat my seven eggs (!!!!). I added s&p and then poured in the potato/onion mixture. They mingled for ten minutes while I did my Russian homework. Я учу русский язык.

I added some oil back into the skillet, then added the egg mixture; I cooked for a bit, trying to let the egg run around the sides as she said, but the pan was so oily that the entire tortilla kept moving whenever I tried to do this.

Once the top was mostly solidified (I’m sorry but I don’t even remotely remember how long this was… five, ten minutes??), I spatula-ed it onto a dinner plate. That part wasn’t too hard—it came right out.

Then I turned the skillet over the plate.

Then I went, what in God’s name do I do now.

I think I just sort of stuck my oven mitt–encased hand under the plate, and then, with my other oven mitt–encased hand on the skillet’s bottom, flipped it over. It was actually not as hard as it sounds, but it was anxiety-provoking.

I put the skillet back over the flame, and learned that the bottom of my tortilla was way too dark. I either overcooked it or had it over too high a flame. (I think the latter; I am overall satisfied with the amount of cooking.)

Then it was done shortly thereafter.

I didn’t think it would be that exciting-tasting, but it was REALLY GOOD. It was like… potato omelette… but in cake form… and it was weirdly addictive and I couldn’t stop eating it. That said, I can’t really imagine ever doing this again, but it was a good experience. And yummy.

I ate it with arugula-and-cherry-tomato salad.

 

Recipe from Smitten Kitchen; not adapted, so just look at it on her site.

Ghanaian stew, kind of

I spent an extremely long time the other day looking for a black-eyed peas recipe that wasn’t lobia or hoppin’ john. I was first led to Red-Red by a Whole Foods post, and then finally I found what seemed like a more legit recipe. (I love that The Spice Island stresses how salty this should be. They know what’s up.) Red-Red is a Ghanaian stew—red for the red palm oil (which I substituted because I couldn’t find any, but then I remembered I could have just gone to one of the West African markets in Harlem and found some, probably) and red for the tomatoes. That’s all I can tell you about it, though; I could not possibly know less about Ghanaian food. Or Ghana, actually. Though I do know multiple people who have lived there.

This recipe has tons of onions, tons of tomatoes (real ones! not canned!), and tons of hot peppers. I used jalapeños rather than habaneros, both because habaneros scare me and because I couldn’t find any. (Well, I found something that looked exactly like habaneros, but it had a different name, and I didn’t want to accidentally feed myself something on the same heat spectrum as Scotch bonnets.) I am now glad about this because my hands are still burning from the jalapeños, and I chopped them more than twelve hours ago. I think I have skin problems. Or maybe I burned myself on, like, a pot or something.

OK, I forgot to mention the black-eyed peas business. I knew I had to soak them for three or four hours, if not overnight, so I put them in to soak and went about my day. Then I drained them, rinsed them, and added more water and put them on the stove. I looked at my previous blog post to see how long they should cook, but it was very unhelpful. I can now sympathize with all of you. (I ended up cooking them for about 50 minutes. When they were done, the liquid was all black. I was freaked out; I assume that if this had happened to me before, I would have recorded it. It almost seemed like they were white beans that someone had drawn a black eye on and the ink had all washed off. But … I mean … that probably didn’t happen?)

After they were done—the timing was a bit off because I was doing all this during/after dinner—I chopped my enormous quantities of onions, then tomatoes. Ugh, and jalapeños.

Beautiful lovely tomatoes, and evil jalapeños. (From my parents’ garden and a farmers’ market.)

Then I put a bunch of dried shrimp (I was aiming to end up with 2 tsp, but I didn’t really measure) into my food processor and ground them (it has a spice-grinding setting; it doesn’t work very well on actual spices). They became a sort of shrimp powder, though in slightly larger bits than I wanted.

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Trader Jacqui’s Blogging Debut!!! Eggplant Pasta

Sometimes, veggies are rotten before you even bring them home. Sometimes, they’re just sitting on the shelf, hiding their dirty rotten secret under their glamorous purple skin, and you have no idea until it’s too late and it’s snowing outside and the curbs are already prepped for the “is it street or is it slush?” game and your cooking partner’s only pair of shoes is high-heeled leather (pleather?) boots. That is exactly the kind of night it has to be for you to discover that your main ingredient is just not going to make the cut.

However, this cooking partner of mine (you all know her as the true owner of this blog) and I have been together for the better part of two decades, and mushy brown eggplant really can’t stop us. We’ve been cooking for longer than I can remember. Our middle-school selves were hooked on filming the process of preparing store-brand macaroni and cheese. Photos wouldn’t have been able to capture that titillating gushy noise you get while stirring the freshly cooked processed goodness. We once tried to make cheese out of skim milk. After that we made soft pretzels … with sprinkles mixed in. We eventually graduated to trying out the cake recipes in Betty Crocker’s Picture Cookbook (i.e. the quintessential guide to being a housewife), but to no avail (whipped egg whites does not a frosting make). I’d say our failures were due not to our own relative shittiness, but to the recipes themselves, and their incomprehensible lack of user-friendliness.

And so, thanks to our almost-two decades of failures, it felt natural for us to be forced into the sparkly NYC snow, me in my galoshes, her in my two-sizes-too-big snow boots, to pick up a new eggplant, boyfriend in tow. And I’m glad we did. We also got a can of diced tomatoes to replace the bruschetta called for in the recipe (taken from The I Love Trader Joe’s Vegetarian Cookbook). The recipe was a pretty basic veggie-over-pasta concoction. It was very wintery with eggplant, cremini mushrooms (Julie calls them “fancy mushrooms”), and bowtie pasta. We added one sweet onion, caramelized.

I’ve always been a control freak in my kitchen, but I’m trying to loosen up and let Julie take the lead every once in a while. Even as I saw her pick up the bottle of olive oil without a measuring tool and carry it over to our frying pan, I let it happen. Then, I poured some of the olive oil from the pan down the drain. I guess I still have a ways to go on that one. So we caramelized the onions (I wish Julie had gotten a picture of me slicing the onions in ski goggles) and then added garlic, sliced creminis, diced tomatoes, and the new eggplant, which had been sweating for about half an hour.

I threw in a whole bunch of Bohemian Forest Rub, a mix from Savory Spice Shop in Austin, TX. We let that simmer on medium-low heat for about ten minutes and cooked up the pasta.

It all went into a big polka-dotted oval stone dish, with plenty of goat cheese available on the side. I am entirely convinced that everything I cook looks better in a round or oval dish.

In the end, the eggplant was still a bit too bitter. I guess we should pay more attention to the seasons when we cook, or skin the eggplant first, or cut it into smaller pieces. I’d say the dish would have been phenomenal without the eggplant, maybe even served over toasted French bread. We rounded the meal off with a “mixed green” salad, red wine vinaigrette, five-buck pinot grigio, and an ooey gooey cinnamon square dessert (god bless Smitten Kitchen) that I’d prepared beforehand over ice cream.

All in all, a wonderful snowday meal, and quite beginner-friendly and quick. And Julie overcame her fear of goat cheese. And I overcame my fear of Julie in my kitchen.