Monday, January 25, 2010

Irresistible Indian

As I've mentioned before, recipes from work frequently inspire me at home. A couple weekends ago I worked an Indian cooking class, and this bread recipe jumped out at me as a 'must try'. Aloo Paratha is an Indian potato-stuffed griddle bread, and it is basically a carb and spice lovers dream. Potatoes are peeled, boiled, and then mashed with a mix of Indian spices. The bread dough is rolled out into big circles, then folded around the potato filling. Finally, the package is carefully rolled out again, to allow for even cooking. I only had a quick taste of these at work, because everyone wanted to take their leftovers home. That was a good sign to me, so I made them myself a few days later. My only issue was that it took a while to make the breads one at a time on my smaller skillet, but in the end I decided the effort was worth it.

The bread paired really well with Spinach Dhal (or lentils) from the blog Cate's World Kitchen. I remembered this recipe sounding really great when I first saw it, and I happened to have just about all of the ingredients on hand. We added a little extra seasoning (salt and curry powder), and found that improved the taste. It also tasted noticeably more flavorful the second day, after the flavors really had time to marry. I think that is usually a pretty cheesy idea, but in this case it was so true! The lunchtime leftovers were such a treat!

Aloo Paratha (Potato-Stuffed Griddle Bread)
from Irresistible Indian at The Chopping Block

For the dough:
2 cups chapatti flour (see note)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable shortening
3/4 cup warm water or more if needed

For the filling:
1 large russet potato or 2 small white potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed
1/2 small onion, minced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
2 teaspoons ground coriander
Salt to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Grapeseed oil, for the griddle

1. To make the dough, mix the chapatti flour, all purpose flour, salt, sugar and ghee. Mix in the water and knead until smooth; add a small amount more water if needed to make a soft, pliable dough. Cover and rest for 30 minutes before using.
2. To make the filling, mash the potatoes in a bowl.
3. Fold in the onion, brown sugar, cilantro, cumin, coriander, salt, lemon juice, garam masala and cayenne pepper.
4. To assemble the parathas, divide the dough into 9 equal parts, and roll each into a thin disk about 10 inches in diameter.
5. Place a 1/4 cup of the filling in the center.
6. Gather the edges to the center to form 4 or 5 points, overlapping so they do not leave an opening.
7. Press gently, dust with dry flour, and proceed to roll 6 inches wide and 1/4 inch thick.
8. To cook the parathas, heat a griddle over medium heat and drizzle with oil.
9. Cook the paratha until golden brown on each side. If the griddle becomes dry, drizzle with more oil.
10. Serve warm.

NOTE: Chapatti flour is an Indian flour made from whole wheat and malted barley. If you can’t find chapatti flour, substitute a mixture of equal parts whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour.

Spinach Dhal
from Cate's World Kitchen, originally from Fresh Indian by Sunil Vijayakar

2 cups red lentils, rinsed and drained
5 cups water
1/4 tsp turmeric
2 tsp freshly grated ginger
1 medium bunch spinach, washed well and roughly chopped (leaves only)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1 fresh jalapeno, thinly sliced (for garnish)

Put the lentils, water, turmeric, and ginger in a dutch oven or large pot. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that collects on the surface. Turn the heat down so the mixture is simmering, and let cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more water in 1/4 cup increments if it begins to look dry. If they are particularly soupy, turn the heat up slightly so some of the water evaporates.

Add the spinach, cilantro, and a few pinches of salt, cover, and simmer for about 5 minutes.
Taste and add more salt if necessary.

Heat the oil in a small frying pan over medium high for about 30 seconds. Add the garlic, cumin, mustard seeds, ground cumin, and ground coriander. Stir fry for about 2 minutes, then pour into the lentils and stir well.

Serve immediately, with slices of fresh jalapeno (if desired)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Italian Wedding Soup

Sunday dinner is my favorite meal of the week. At this point it's usually just me and Joe sitting in the couch, watching TV and enjoying a meal that we've cooked together. In later years I'm sure I'll enjoy Sunday night dinners as a time to reconnect as a family, sitting around the table catching up and getting ready for the week ahead. At this point in our lives, Joe and I are pretty well up to date on what's going on with each other, so my focus is more on the food! Sunday usually means extra time to cook, and a chance to make something more involved than our usual weeknight dinner.

I needed to prove my worth in the kitchen after last week's not so great new recipes, so I knew Ina Garten was the person to turn to. I personally can't stand her Barefoot Contessa show on Food Network, but I adore the two cookbooks of hers that I own. I can't remember making any recipes of hers that I didn't enjoy, so I pulled out the Back to Basics cookbook when it was time to plan this week's recipes. I knew right away which recipe was perfect for a January night at home with Joe... Italian Wedding Soup!

This is a type of soup I'd never tried before, because it has meatballs in the soup, and meatballs are usually made with beef. But Ina's recipe is different, and calls for a combination of chicken sausage and ground chicken. Perfection!

The meatballs were baked, and turned out tender and full of flavor. The pasta added some heft (I don't like wimpy soup), and the spinach made it seem nice and healthy (which really it was!). I think the best part of the soup was the addition of minced fresh dill, which gave it such a fresh, herby flavor. We ate Ribiola Due Latte Italian cheese from Whole Foods with the soup, with bread and roasted garlic. The meal paired nicely with the tripel style beer that Joe had gotten for Christmas, from the Boulevard Brewery Smokestack series. It's high quality KC beer, and I'm bummed out we can't get it here in Chicago. It does make it a treat when we get a chance to down some!

Italian Wedding Soup
from Back to Basics, by Ina Garten

Serves 6-8 (we did a half recipe, and it easily serves 4)

For the meatballs:

* 3/4 pound ground chicken
* 1/2 pound chicken sausage, casings removed
* 2/3 cup fresh white bread crumbs
* 2 teaspoons minced garlic (2 cloves)
* 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
* 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
* 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
* 3 tablespoons milk
* 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
* Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the soup:

* 2 tablespoons good olive oil
* 1 cup minced yellow onion
* 1 cup diced carrots (3 carrots), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
* 3/4 cup diced celery (2 stalks), cut into 1/4 inch pieces
* 10 cups homemade chicken stock
* 1/2 cup dry white wine
* 1 cup small pasta such as tubetini or stars
* 1/4 cup minced fresh dill
* 12 ounces baby spinach, washed and trimmed


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the meatballs, place the ground chicken, sausage, bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, Pecorino, Parmesan, milk, egg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a bowl and combine gently with a fork. With a teaspoon, drop 1 to 1 1/4-inch meatballs onto a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. (You should have about 40 meatballs. They don't have to be perfectly round.) Bake for 30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned. Set aside.

This picture illustrates the large size of my wonderful new stockpot... no more boiling pasta in my Le Creuset dutch oven!

In the meantime, for the soup, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat in a large heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, 5 to 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the simmering broth and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, until the pasta is tender. Add the fresh dill and then the meatballs to the soup and simmer for 1 minute. Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in the fresh spinach and cook for 1 minute, until the spinach is just wilted. Ladle into soup bowls and sprinkle each serving with extra grated Parmesan.

Sunday, January 17, 2010


After a rough week of less than stellar new recipes, I knew I had to get my kitchen skills back in line. Who better to go to than Ina and her Back to Basics cookbook? Tonight's dinner was fantastic... but you'll have to wait to hear about it! Until then, check out the Beer Bread I posted about on my other blog. Sunday night dinners are always one of my favorite parts of the weekend, and this evening was no exception!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Better Luck Next Time

Some weeks I have big plans about all the dishes I want to cook for my blog. This week I was excited to try a couple new recipes that I had found online. While we didn't starve, I ended up totally underwhelmed by what came out of my kitchen this week, so I'm here to tell you about what really happens in my kitchen. I usually just share my successful recipes, to offer ideas of things my friends and family might like to try. But I'm not perfect, so I figured it's better to post my less amazing attempts at dinner, instead of no posts at all!

I'll start with the worst... Tofu and Green Beans in a Coconut Sauce, from epicurious. I used baked tofu instead of marinating and searing my own, but that was really the least of my problems. The sauce was slimy, and totally flavorless. I thought it tasted ok when I sampled it, but once I put the tofu and green bean mixture onto rice noodles, all flavor disappeared. Maybe the worst part was that I used full-fat coconut milk, so it was not even healthy! I mixed a bunch of extra stuff in before Joe ate some leftovers, and he said it was decent, but I won't bother trying to make this dish any better. Blah!

Second attempt was Tempeh Curry from 101 Cookbooks. This dish wasn't really bad, but it wasn't as good as I hoped it would be. I think a problem might have been that I was using pretty low quality curry powder, an issue I've already remedied. I will most likely try this again, but will tweak the spices to get more flavor out of it. Also, I might try to encorporate a veggie into the curry, along with the potatoes. It was a good start, so don't be surprised if you see a full post for this recipe in the future.

These beautiful spices looked so promising...

At least I got to use my super-awesome Shun utility knife when cutting my tempeh. This knife is ridiculously amazing!

I also made fajitas, which were awesome. But I'm not going to blog about fajitas, because I think it's something we all know how to make. Season some chicken, saute it, add some peppers and onions, saute more... then top with cheese, salsa, sour cream, or whatever suits your fancy. To go with the fajitas, I made black beans and rice from my new I Love Trader Joe's Cookbook. The cookbook is a lot of fun, and the beans had really good flavor. The only problem was that the drained beans were pretty dry, and Joe and I agreed we like our black beans a little soupier. This is another recipe that I might play around with, then post when I achieve better results. The cookbook is a good one, though, full of quick and flavorful recipe ideas. I'm sure you'll see me reference it again soon!

I'm not going to bother trying to get this picture to turn the right way... the sideways picture is a nice visual representation of my cooking this past week!

Next week will be better, I swear! Feel free to send me any winning recipes that you really enjoy, because I could use some inspiration. Have a great weekend everyone!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Portabella Pizzas

These portabella mushroom pizzas were an idea from a blog I really enjoy, Proud Italian Cook. She had posted them as a New Year's Eve party snack idea, but I thought they would also be perfect for a regular dinner. I made the pizzas with a salad and some slices of No Knead Bread... perfect dinner! This could easily have been a vegetarian dish, but I saw some chicken Italian sausage at whole foods that I couldn't resist.

This recipe was so easy! Just scrape the gills out of the mushrooms, and roast them under the broiler for about 5 minutes on each side. Them top with tomato sauce, sausage (pre-cooked in a skillet), spinach, and cheese... or whatever you want! So much flexibility. Portabellas are not the cheapest ingredient, but I'll keep an eye out for them at a decent price, because I'd love to make this again. It was so easy for a busy weeknight, but still felt special and slightly gourmet. Check out Proud Italian Cook for tons of other fresh and deliciously simple Italian recipes.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Celebrating 3 years of marriage!

Want to read about our anniversary dinner? Check out our new family blog, A Perfect Pairing. I'm not giving up on this blog, but I will be writing about some food stuff, along with life experiences & Joe's brewing. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Quinoa Salad with Broccoli Pesto

This quinoa and broccoli salad screams new year health food. Perfect for the post-holiday detox. It was pretty quick to put together, although it did dirty more pans than I would have liked. Mostly because I am sick and didn't want to do the dishes! I did end up adding extra salt and lemon juice once I mixed it all together, but the couple bites I had seemed pretty tasty. Joe had seconds, if that's any indication. I had ramen noodles, which was not as tasty but felt good with my cold & stomach ache. Hopefully I'll feel better tomorrow, because I have a feeling this would make an excellent lunch!

Double Broccoli Quinoa

3 cups cooked quinoa*
5 cups raw broccoli, cut into small florets and stems

3 medium garlic cloves
2/3 cup sliced or slivered almonds, toasted
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
2 big pinches salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup heavy cream

Optional toppings: slivered basil, sliced avocado, crumbled feta or goat cheese

Heat the quinoa and set aside.

Now barely cook the broccoli by pouring 3/4 cup water into a large pot and bringing it to a simmer. Add a big pinch of salt and stir in the broccoli. Cover and cook for a minute, just long enough to take the raw edge off. Transfer the broccoli to a strainer and run under cold water until it stops cooking. Set aside.

To make the broccoli pesto puree two cups of the cooked broccoli, the garlic, 1/2 cup of the almonds, Parmesan, salt, and lemon juice in a food processor. Drizzle in the olive oil and cream and pulse until smooth.

Just before serving, toss the quinoa and remaining broccoli florets with about 1/2 of the broccoli pesto. Taste and adjust if needed, you might want to add more of the pest a bit at a time, or you might want a bit more salt or an added squeeze of lemon juice. Turn out onto a serving platter and top with the remaining almonds, a drizzle of the chile oil, and some sliced avocado or any of the other optional toppings.

Serves 4 - 6

*To cook quinoa: rinse one cup of quinoa in a fine-meshed strainer. In a medium saucepan heat the quinoa, two cups of water (or broth if you like), and a few big pinches of salt until boiling. Reduce heat and simmer until water is absorbed and quinoa fluffs up, about 15 minutes. Quinoa is done when you can see the curlique in each grain, and it is tender with a bit of pop to each bite. Drain any extra water and set aside.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Cold Weather, Warm Risotto

One of my favorite cold-weather meals is risotto, and the weather in Chicago has been VERY risotto worthy for the last couple days. Hello January! This Jamie Oliver recipe is the best risotto I've made at home, and any other mushroom fanatics out there will probably agree with me. I did double mushroom flavor, because Jamie calls for chicken stock but I wanted to keep it vegetarian. I found mushroom stock at Whole Foods, and also packs of mixed wild mushrooms. I believe these were cremini, oyster, and shiitake.

This is a beautiful cookbook, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys Jamie Oliver's fresh, simple take on sustainable foods. And check out his show on Food Network... he's so funny!

Grilled Mushroom Risotto
from Jamie at Home, by Jamie Oliver


* 6 1/3 cups chicken stock (Use mushroom or vegetable stock to make this vegetarian)
* Handful dried porcini mushrooms
* Olive oil
* 1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
* 2 sticks celery, trimmed and finely chopped
* 14 ounces risotto rice
* 2/3 cup vermouth or white wine
* Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
* 4 large handfuls wild mushrooms (try chanterelles, shiitake, black trumpet or oyster - definitely no button mushrooms, please!), cleaned and sliced
* Few sprigs fresh chervil, tarragon or parsley, leaves picked and chopped
* 1 lemon, juiced
* 2 tablespoons butter
* 2 handfuls freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
* Extra-virgin olive oil

Heat stock in a saucepan and keep it on a low simmer.

Place the porcini mushrooms in a bowl and pour in just enough hot stock to cover. Leave for a couple of minutes until they've softened. Fish them out of the stock and chop them, reserving the soaking liquid.

In a large pan, heat a glug of olive oil and add the onion and celery. Slowly fry without coloring for at least 10 minutes, then turn the heat up and add the rice. Give it a stir. Stir in the vermouth or wine - it'll smell fantastic! Keep stirring until the liquid has cooked into the rice. Now pour the porcini soaking liquid through a sieve into the pan and add the chopped porcini, a good pinch of salt and your first ladle of hot stock. Turn the heat down to a simmer and keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring and massaging the starch out of the rice, allowing each ladleful to be absorbed before adding the next. Carry on adding stock until the rice is soft but with a slight bite. This will take about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, get a dry griddle pan hot and grill the wild mushrooms until soft. If your pan isn't big enough, do this in batches. Put them into a bowl and add the chopped herbs, a pinch of salt and the lemon juice. Using your hands toss everything together - this is going to be incredible!

Take the risotto off the heat and check the seasoning carefully. Stir in the butter and the Parmesan. You want it to be creamy and oozy in texture, so add a bit more stock if you think it needs it. Put a lid on and leave the risotto to relax for about 3 minutes.

Taste your risotto and add a little more seasoning or Parmesan if you like. Serve a good dollop of risotto topped with some grilled dressed mushrooms, a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.