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

Jollof rice (well, not really, but kind of)

I am continuing my West African kick with jollof rice, the national dish of a variety of West African countries. I don’t feel qualified to say much else about it; I have no idea if my version was authentic (and if it was originally, it wasn’t after I messed with it); etc. etc. But it is yummy and only gets better as time goes on. I wasn’t thrilled with it on Sunday, but by Tuesday it was really good, all melded together, flavor synthesis, blah blah. I am also so impressed by how the chicken came out that I’m willing to overlook all the other deficiencies, such as excessive tomato flavor such that all the other flavors are sort of lost and… well that pretty much sums it up. I browned, braised, and microwaved the chicken at various points over the last few days, and it’s still moist and yummy and tender and non-dry. And it tastes good. I think this is a function of using thighs and not cutting all the fat off? Or it’s because I used relatively happy chickens? (Let’s just say their lives probably had their ups and downs, but things could have been worse.)

Anyway. I messed up most of this recipe and barely took pictures because I was Skyping the whole time, and it was very stressful going back and forth from the chickeny cutting board to the computer to the recipe etc., and I spent a lot of time staring at the recipe while my sisters wondered what I was doing because it just looked like I was staring at them close-up and creepily. But I wasn’t. (Oh, and there was this one moment where I was getting an incoming Skype call and I got extremely stressed and clicked “accept,” but then I realized I hadn’t washed my hands after cutting some chicken, so I proceeded to spray my computer, mouse, and basically everything nearby with all-purpose kitchen cleaner. Ew. Ugh.)

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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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Israeli couscous with eggplant and tomato

Here is the very belated second post of the week. While I am writing this, I still haven’t tasted it because of hopefully unfounded stomach fears… but I’ll have some soon and let you know. It smelled and looked amazing, so I think it will be fine.

I had been meaning to make this for several years, but never got around to it, even after Jacqui found and bought me some whole-wheat Israeli couscous (for less than like $8/lb, which is what Fairway sells it for, blehhh).

I don’t know if it’s because this happened so long ago or because it was really easy, but I can’t think of a whole lot to say about this. It was easy.

I take a LOT of pictures of steam by accident.

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You will regret reading this. It’s disgusting.

A few notes on this post (ugh, this already sounds like a work e-mail):

  1. If you don’t like it, you may blame Fig’s aunt. (I won’t link to her in case that’s weird.) She requested a new post. I was going to write one anyway, but then I started to feel gross, so I changed my mind, but then I changed it back again.
  2. There is a very small chance I am dying. If you don’t hear from me in a week, you may assume I am dead and move on to greener blog pastures.
  3. Everything you are about to read is gross and unpleasant, and will involve conversations with things and creatures that cannot speak in reality. (Update: I was going to relate a conversation with Fitzpatrick, but I won’t bother. It was even weirder than the rest of all this.)

A straggly band of loners. The roots of tomato disease are already visible.

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I theoretically love you

The vegetable dish for the week: potato and pea curry. This sounds like everything I would love (well, I really love potatoes). It is actually very good, but:

1. As with every single thing I’ve ever made, ever, the flavors are muted. Probably the fault of old chili powder and old turmeric and old (well, new, but made with old spices) garam masala. Oh, whoops, I never actually added the garam masala. (Also I just spelled that mamasala, which I like better.)

2. There are way too many potatoes. It tastes more like a carb course than a vegetable course. So it’s sort of weird to eat with rice on the side. It isn’t vegetabley enough.

3. There’s SOMETHING about it. I don’t know. Not enough flavor? DEPTH OF FLAVOR? (That’s a concept I don’t really understand.)

But I do like it, and if you want to, you may make it. Just add more spices. Or fresher spices. I think I’ll probably make it again, and/or experiment with it; it is a good combination of things.

I diced my potatoes and tomatoes into approximately half-inch dice (this is pretty small; I wanted them to be close in size to the peas. They’re bigger, but pea-sized potato pieces would be a little insane).

I have a very hard time taking photos of white food.

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Baked orzo with chard

This post could also be titled: how I planned to follow a cool recipe and then decided just to make something that tasted like my favorite baked ziti and was way better than the original plan. The recipe had leeks, dill, and feta cheese, and I spent all day convincing myself that I wanted to eat these things, but I absolutely did not; I went home and made it with onions, some basil pesto from the freezer, and mozzarella. It is pretty much my ideal food, but if you don’t like pasta with tomato sauce and cheese you shouldn’t bother making it.

I will also do a tutorial on Swiss chard, since there have been questions. I love Swiss chard—it’s my favorite leafy green—but it has a very distinct and slightly weird taste, so you probably shouldn’t make it the centerpiece of your meal unless you’ve tried it. I really like it sauteed until entirely wilted and silky, with lots of garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt. So you should try this.

Anyway, here’s a bunch of Swiss chard (regular, not rainbow—rainbow is prettier, but I don’t think there’s any other difference. Oh, Wikipedia says rainbow isn’t even a breed, just a bunch of different colors put together…).

The stems don’t look great—most recipes tell you to throw them out, but this one uses them, which I like. But you still have to separate them, since the stems take much longer to cook than do the leaves. You fold the leaves together behind the stem and grip the leaves in one hand, near the stem; then you just use the other hand to pull the stem out. It’s easier than it sounds. I can’t describe it properly. It’s also not an exact science.

Then you chop it.

This is maybe an excessive number of pictures of chard.

Then you combine it with onions, garlic, and red pepper flakes. For some reason, this smelled AMAZING. I mean, I thought it would smell good, but it just smelled ridiculously great. It was weird.

Oh, also, you should be listening to the MOTH Story Slam while you do all this. This episode was on. In all sincerity you need to listen to the second one, “Franny’s Last Ride.” I have somehow heard it twice and may or may not have cried both times.

Anyway. Add your chard leaves after a few minutes, then your tomato paste (TIP: You will never ever use a whole can of tomato paste before it goes moldy; stick it in the freezer) and then crushed tomatoes. I also added a few frozen tablespoons of pesto at this point, as a sort of substitute for the dill. I had added less oil than was called for at the beginning (possibly), so I figured the extra oil was OK at this point. Then orzo, cheese, etc., bake.

I baked it for only twenty minutes and it was perfect and finished and bubbly and melty.

This will not in any way serve six. Unless you and/or your friends and relatives eat far less pasta than you should.

Baked Orzo with Chard, Mozzarella and Pesto
(adapted from Serious Eats)

2 tbsp olive oil (less if you plan to use pesto, or the same amount if you don’t care how much oil you eat, which is proper and correct)
1 small-to-medium onion (depending on how oniony you want your pasta), diced
1 large bunch chard, rinsed well, leaves and stems divided; stems cut in ribbons, stems diced
2 medium cloves garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
Basil, chopped, or pesto
1 c (5 oz) uncooked orzo
4 oz mozzarella, cubed

Preheat oven to 375°F. Spray a two-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray (or not. I cooked it on the stove in my Dutch oven and then just transferred the Dutch oven to the oven).

Heat olive oil until shimmering. Add onion, chard stems, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Cook about four minutes, until not quite brown. (I don’t even know what that means. It’s not in the recipe.) Add tomato paste and cook for another minute; add chard leaves and cook until wilted. Add crushed tomatoes and orzo and bring to a boil. If you’re using frozen pesto, you might as well add it now so it can defrost and become incorporated. Stir well and remove from heat. Add mozzarella cheese (and fresh basil, if using. I can’t comment on what happens to basil when you bake it but I assume it’s fine. Basil rules).

At this point I just covered the Dutch oven with its lid and stuck it in the oven for twenty minutes; if you’re Dutch-oven-less, put a piece of aluminum foil over your baking dish and cover tightly. If you wish, uncover after twenty minutes and bake for an additional twenty. My orzo was cooked after twenty and I was OK with the level of browning so I didn’t bother.

 

Something amazing recently happened to Fitzpatrick: he is now a unicorn.

Marcella’s tomato sauce

Last week was a week of healthy Indian food, low on carbs, and tons of kickboxing. I was kind of hungry and salt-deprived all week and was generally feeling weird and dizzy and light-headed, so I decided I should return to my food roots this week and just have tons of pasta. This is the way my body is used to functioning, and things turn weird when I don’t eat enough pasta/carbs. (I am actually serious about this. I think it’s my metabolism. I can’t get full unless I have a lot of carbs.)

So I wanted to find a way to make pasta interesting, since usually I just put some things on it and that’s it. I am planning to do Swiss chard, chickpeas, and cheese (gruyere and/or mozzarella), in the vein of that one thing I made a while ago and took horrible cell-phone pictures of, but then I thought I would do a real tomato sauce. I have made tomato sauce before, but always just by throwing things into a pot of simmering crushed tomatoes—I wanted, this time, to do a big, real one. So I’m doing the one Marcella Hazan describes as “the most concentrated and the most strongly flavored”: Tomato Sauce I. I’m using canned tomatoes because it is April and there are no good tomatoes anywhere (and also because even when it is tomato season all the tomatoes I can ever find are nasty).

This recipe involves a full half-cup of olive oil. Ew. I am sautéeing 1/3 c onions in it now, and will soon add carrots and celery, finely diced. (That’s what I meant about a real tomato sauce—so many small bits in it.)

There are very few pictures for this post, and all of them are very bad.

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Boom. Fucking nailed it.

OK. I got home from kickboxing at 8. I started sauteing two large spoonfuls of pre-minced garlic (I know…) in olive oil in a small saucepan. I threw in the frozen contents of two tupperwares: chickpeas and whole canned tomatoes. I put a lid on it. I showered.

When I came back, everything was bubbling and thawed and warm. I stirred and then began making biscuits.

I made self-rising flour by combining all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. I added more salt as per the biscuit recipe. I created a well in the center and poured in about 3/4 c of previously frozen plain yogurt. (Basically the entire point of these biscuits was to use the yogurt, which I bought a while ago by accident.) I stirred and determined there was not enough yogurt. Unfortunately I didn’t have any more—well, I did, but I smelled it and then put it in the garbage—so I added some leftover cream of borderline still-tastiness. I did the whole stirring thing. Dumped it out onto my clean, floured counter. Sprinkled a bit more flour on top. Folded, kneaded, patted into a 1/2-inch-thick circle. Cut out biscuits using the kickass beer mugs I got from my grandpa.

iPhoto sort of surrealized this photo. I really like it. It didn’t look like that in real life.

The chickpeas were still simmering in the tomatoes. (They were very liquidy, in case it just sounded like there were some tomatoes and chickpeas sitting in a pot together.)

I put the biscuits onto a buttered cookie sheet—oh, I forgot, this was the best part. In order to melt the butter onto the cookie sheet, I put some lumps of cold butter on the cookie sheet, then put the cookie sheet on top of the simmering chickpeas. The butter melted and I swished it around with the back of a spoon. I was very pleased.

Anyway, long story short, the biscuits went into the oven, I tasted and revised the chickpeas (salt + pepper + just a few red pepper flakes), and I ate, like fourteen minutes later.

EVERYTHING WAS REALLY GOOD. IT WAS A FOOD MIRACLE. And on a kickboxing night, no less.

No recipe for the chickpeas—just do whatever you want. I think it was so good because I simmered it for about half an hour.

Yogurt Biscuits
From Southern Biscuits, recipe courtesy of Serious Eats

2 c self-rising flour (or 2 c AP flour + 1 tbsp baking powder + 1/2 tsp salt)
1 tsp salt (or less if you make your own self-rising flour; my biscuits are rather salty)
3/4–1 c plain yogurt
Some butter

Preheat the oven to 450•. I know how to make a bullet point, but not a degree symbol. ° Ooh sweet.

Whisk together the flour and salt. Create a well in the center and pour in 3/4 c of yogurt. Mix briskly (don’t overmix like I did! It toughens your biscuits) until the dough is pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Add a bit more yogurt if there is leftover flour on the bottom (I added the cream at this point—there was really no cohesive dough.)

Pour onto a lightly floured surface. Flour the surface of the dough. Fold the dough in half and pat into a circle, about half an inch thick. Repeat once or twice more.

Use a biscuit cutter or cup/mug to cut out biscuit rounds. It’s best to make as many as possible out of the original dough circle; re-rolling will toughen the biscuits.

Put on a buttered cookie sheet (for biscuits with a crisper exterior; for a soft exterior, use a cake pan and crowd the biscuits together). Bake at 450° for 10-14 minutes on the top rack, turning the pan around midway through baking.

Also, brief note: These aren’t really like butter biscuits—they’re still flaky but sort of in a different way. I think generally I like butter biscuits better, but they are a giant pain in the ass to make because the involve that whole cutting the butter into the dough thing, which is my least favorite cooking thing of all time.

Italian feast + austerity measures

I guess it would make more sense if it were Greek feast + austerity measures. Har har har. Anyway, Jenny and I made our parents an Italian feast last night, and today I didn’t get the chance to buy groceries (slash drank more than I ate at dinner, so I probably shouldn’t be cooking anyway; but I did make baked oatmeal, which was kind of nerve-racking under the circumstances), so I’m just going to scrounge in my own apartment for food all week. And I’ll be editing my parsnip soup to make it more palatable for a second week of eating. SIGH.

Also, you should all go to my Flickr, since I don’t post all the pictures here. Does that link work?

Our first course was bruschetta, which Jenny made. She thinly sliced a French baguette (because there were no Italian baguettes), then drizzled olive oil over them. Then she instructed me to preheat the oven to whatever temperature I desired (I chose 350), and toasted the baguette slices for a while. Then she added diced tomatoes, which smelled like tomato vines, which is the best smell on the planet.

Meanwhile, I was making tiramisu, which turned out to be Tiramisu Soup. Ahh! Soup! I am categorizing this post as soup. (How noticeable is it that I had two beers for dinner??) I made custard (egg yolks + sugar, but it was supposed to magnify to two or three times its initial volume, and I don’t think it did) and whipped in a pound of mascarpone, and then Jenny and I valiantly tried to make whipped cream. We failed, for the first time in our lives. I know you’re supposed to use nonpasteurized cream for whipped cream, but I only use pasteurized because I shop in normal grocery stores for normal Americans who only eat pasteurized things, and I have always been a magnificent cream-whipper before. But tonight, alas, it came to naught.

So we combined them, and created tiramisu-soup-filling. Then I dipped ladyfingers

[just remembered what I forgot about the oatmeal. Oatmeal always gets really excited and overflows the boundaries of its containers. So now my recently cleaned oven has oatmeal all over it. NOOO]

in decaf coffee, layered them with the soup in an 8×8 pan, and put it in the fridge, where I hoped I could forget about it. It was very sad. More on that later.

The first course was Spaghettini alla carrettiera, aka Lidia Bastianich–brand linguini with basil from our freezer (previously from our garden) and fancy Whole Foods canned tomatoes. Recipe below; it looked terrible but tasted really, really good, and was really easy to make. We did have to make a disclaimer that we had no idea if it would be nasty, because it really did look nasty. Frozen basil has a tendency to turn an unattractive color after it thaws.

Don’t worry, I have even worse pictures.

Then the steak. This was extremely exciting. Jacqui, avert your eyes.

Oh no, my cat is sleeping with his head on the cookbook, so I can’t turn to the recipe! It was steak cooked with onions and tomatoes, and it was supposed to have olives, but only one-half of the present family members are willing to eat olives, so we omitted them.

First the onions were cooked in an amount of olive oil that was supposed to come up to the one-quarter mark on the saucepan. This was horrifying, but we of course obliged, since Marcella Hazan said so. Jenny cooked them, asking me every three seconds whether they were softened or golden or whatever they were supposed to be. I said I did not know. She said this was not helpful. After a while, garlic and more canned tomatoes were added; these cooked for a while.

Then it was time to cook the steak. We got very happy steak from Whole Foods (clarification for those who still don’t seem to understand this: they were happy before they were humanely killed), and were supposed to slice it into 1/4-inch pieces. We tried to pound them using a meat cleaver. Well, Jenny did, while I freaked out. I later described the scene as “It looks like we murdered a cow and then splattered its blood everywhere.” To which Jenny responded, “No it doesn’t.” I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know why I’m still talking.” It was gross, though.

ANYWAY. We heated up the pan for a good long while, then added olive oil, then put in the steak. It splattered. There were screams. Our mom, doing laundry in the basement, yelled, “Is everything OK in there?” We ignored her, being unable to truthfully answer.

We cooked it on both sides until it was beautifully browned (though still somewhat raw on the inside, as we would later learn. Holy shit, I just spelled that lurn). We topped the steak pieces with the onion-tomato mixture.

Then dinner time! The bruschetta was lovely.

The pasta tasted way better than we anticipated. The steak was re-cooked on lower heat when it was time for the second course, because it was scarily red inside, even though we are all medium-rare eaters in this family. Ooh, the kitty got off the book. Yay.

At first we ate all the courses in the right order, but then we went back and re-ate more of the previous courses. Also, we drank wine.

The tiramisu was even pretty good! It was texturally ridiculous, but it did taste like tiramisu. (You know, I just went to post a picture of it, and decided not to.) And we also ate macarons from Laduree that Jenny and our mom had bought the day before. They were good, but I don’t really get why people think they are the epitome of wonderfulness in life. Maybe I am a heathen.

This is my favorite plate.

That’s about it. It went well. Then we finished our puzzle, and all was right with the world.

Spaghettini alla carrettiera (thin spaghetti with fresh basil and tomato sauce)
from Marcella Hazan’s The Classic Italian Cookbook
1 bunch fresh basil (1 1/2 to 2 cups; I only used 1)
2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes (or regular, even non-Italian! tomatoes), seeded, drained, and coarsely chopped
5 large cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/3 c olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground pepper, about 6 twists
1 pound whatever spaghetti you frickin want

Pull all the basil leaves from the stalkes, rinse, and roughly chop. Put the basil, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, 1 tsp salt, and pepper in an uncovered saucepan and cook over medium-high heat for 15 minutes. Taste and correct for salt.

Drop the spaghetti in 4 qts boiling salted water. Cook until very al dente.

Drain the spaghetti. You’re supposed to mix the spaghetti with the sauce, but we served them separately, since we still didn’t know if the sauce would be nasty…

Marcella says no grated cheese is called for. This is bullshit. You should serve it with (good) parmesan cheese. Sorry, Marcella. Unless you meant that it shouldn’t be served with the green-can stuff.

Fettine di manzo alla sorrentina (Thin pan-broiled steaks with tomatoes and olives) (without the olives)
1/2 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
Olive oil sufficient to come 1/4 inch up the side of the pan
2 medium cloves garlic, diced
2/3 c canned tomatoes, roughly chopped, with their juice
1 dozen black Greek olives, pitted and quartered (or not)
1/4 teaspoon oregano
Salt
Freshly ground pepper, 6 to 8 twists of the mill
1 pound beef steaks, preferably chuck or chicken steaks (what is that???), sliced 1/4 inch thick, pounded, and edges notched to keep from curling

In a good-sized skillet, saute the sliced onion in the olive oil. As it takes on a pale gold color, add the diced garlic. Saute until the garlic has colored slightly, then add the tomatoes, olives, oregano, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook at a lively simmer until the tomatoes and oil separate, 15 minutes or more. Turn the heat down, keeping at the barest simmer.

Heat a heavy iron skillet until it is smoking hot. Grease the bottom (we just poured some oil on and swished it around). Put in the beef slices (Jenny, on reading this I am now worried we did it completely wrong. Were we actually supposed to slice it into slices????? Does that make any sense? Whatever, you don’t read this blog). As you turn the meat, season it with salt and pepper. Transfer the browned meat to the simmering sauce, turning it quickly and basting it with sauce, then to a hot platter, pouring the sauce over the meat. (Whoops, we just put the meat on the plate and poured the sauce on top.)

Marcella says not to serve this with any tomato-based first course. Oops.

The tiramisu was adapted from this—and by adapted, I just mean I did it wrong. I also omitted the coffee liqueur and did not chill it enough.