Recipe fantasy to food reality.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Just add water

There are a few people theorizing as to what could be contributing to the food-related-stupidity observed in this Washington Post article. I'm going to add my voice to the mix, because I think there's more to it than people being stupider now or shallower or less refined. Advertisers of prepared/prepackaged/fast foods have a stake in convincing people that cooking is hard and they can't do it. I am mystified by a lot of products I see that are no easier to use than making the dish from scratch would be. Instead of using a cake mix, where you have to mix together some eggs, some oil and some cake mix, you could make a cake from scratch by measuring out the flour/sugar/baking powder/salt, taking perhaps two extra minutes doing it. You can buy boxed pasta with "flavor packets" for olive oil and garlic - or you could boil your own pasta, mince up some garlic (or buy pre-minced), warm it up a little, and combine. There is even frozen pre-buttered toast that you have to toast in your toaster oven to serve! These things require only slightly less if not the same amount of work than making them from their component ingredients would, but people will gladly pay the mark-up for the "convenience," the cute packaging and what eventually comes to be the familiar and comforting flavor of partially-hydrogenated soybean oil.

The worst part is that it took me a few years of intent cooking to realize this - it's easy to buy the idea that Pasta Roni is easier to use than spaghetti and olive oil. I don't cook everything from scratch, and I like cheetos and McDonald's cheeseburgers. I am not a paragon of food purity and integrity. I do try and think about what exactly it is that I'm buying when I pick something off of the grocery store shelf instead of out of a bulk bin, however, and I think it's made a huge improvement to my cooking.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


When cooking with heavy ingredients, I like to use a little more of the more flavorful fats and cut back on the less flavorful ones. The recipe for this quiche called for a 3 tablespoons of butter, 2 cups of cream, 4 strips of bacon, and a cup of shredded cheese. Instead of cooking my vegetables in the recommended butter, I used a comparable amount of bacon grease to get the job done. I made a few other replacements and reductions - thus decreasing the fat and calories - but the end result was a very flavorful quiche.

I'd never made a quiche before, and somehow both recipes I based mine on didn't recommend pre-baking the crust. Miraculously, it came out minimally soggy, but I won't repeat this mistake again. There's really nothing worse than soggy eggs.

1 pie crust
4 strips thick-cut bacon
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups broccoli, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese
4 eggs
1 cup half and half
1 cup 2% milk
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon mustard powder

Heat oven to 425F. Fry bacon in saute pan until crisp and set aside. Remove bacon grease from pan except about 1-2 tablespoons, and return pan to medium-low heat. Add onion and broccoli to the bacon grease, stir to coat, and cook until onions are translucent. With the pie crust arranged in a pie plate, evenly arrange the cheese, onion and broccoli in the crust. Crumble the bacon into the pie plate along with the vegetables and cheese. Whip togther the remaining ingredients and pour into the pie plate. Bake the quiche at 425F for about 15 minutes, and then reduce the heat to 300F to bake for 30 more minutes, or until quiche is solid and a knife stuck in the center comes out clean.

Okay, it's time to confess: I love storebought pie crusts. They're so easy to use and taste just as great as anything I've ever made. If it's Thanksgiving or some other special occasion, I'll make my own, but for a Wednesday night dinner, storebought pie crusts are a convenience I don't mind relying on.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Indianish dinner

Indian lamb patties
Potatoes with yogurt sauce and cilantro
Radish and fennel salad with yogurt-coriander-mint dressing

Indian lamb patties
serves four
1 3/4 pounds ground lamb
2 shallots, minced
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon coriander
dash cayenne

Mix all ingredients and form into 2 to 3-inch patties. Pan-fry until centers are completely cooked. Drain on paper towels before serving.

Potatoes with yogurt sauce and cilantro
Serves four
Adapted from Indian: deliciously authentic dishes by Shehzad Husain and Rafi Fernandez
12 new potatoes, halved
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon whtie cumin seeds
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 fresh green chiles, sliced
cilantro to garnish

Boil the potatoes in salted water with their skins on until they are just tender, then drain and set aside. Mix together the yogurt, turmeric, chili powder, ground coriander, ground cumin, salt and sugar in a bowl. Set aside. Heat the oil in a medium saucepan and add the white cumin seeds. Reduce the heat and stir in the yogurt mixture to cook for about 2 minutes over medium heat. Add the cilantro, green chiles and cooked potatoes. Stir together and cook for a further 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve garnished with cilantro.

Radish and fennel salad with yogurt-coriander-mint dressing
Serves four
1 fennel bulb
1 english cucumber
8-10 radishes
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt
1 1/2 teaspoons coriander
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
salt, to taste

Slice vegetables thinly and arrange on plate. Mix remaining ingredients and season to taste with salt. Pour dressing over salad and serve cold or at room temperature.

Manila Cake
It came to me in a dream

On Saturday night, I had a very vivid dream about making a cake called "manila cake." It was a four-layered yellow cake, triangular in shape, with white frosting and fruit slices stuck to it. In my dream it was one of the accepted classics, like a german chocolate cake or a pineapple upside down cake.

When I woke up, I knew I had to make it. I used the starlight yellow cake recipe from good ol' Betty Crocker, and used lemon buttercream frosting. For the fruit, I used kiwi, orange and mango. We served it last night to dinner guests and it was very well-recieved. I am not exactly a pastry chef, and it's hard to transpose a recipe from dream to reality, but I think it turned out nicely.

I ate a turnip

I know, I know, not the most riveting news to return from my unexpected hiatus, but it was notable to me. I'd never eaten one before, but was looking around the produce section for something to roast with chicken and shallots and fennel, and threw it in my basket on a whim. They're delicious, it turns out, and not at all deserving of their bland reputation.