Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Middle-Eastern Feast (with cats)

OK, food in a moment - first I have to show you this:

And this:

She's sure it's all for her! Quite a look on her face when she was told to get down. Awww...

Back to the food. The inspiration for this came from Pinch My Salt: she did a hummus post last week, and I poked around on her site and found some great recipes for other things to go with it. Then Bob had a fancy middle-eastern spread for Father's Day, and that sealed the deal.

Originally was going to try making pita too, but oh well.

Herewith some fun facts from Wikipedia:
  • The largest recorded bowl of tabbouleh was made on June 9, 2006 in Ramallah in the West Bank. It weighed 3,348 lbs, and earned a Guinness World Record.
  • In the movie Bruno, Sacha Baron-Cohen (in character as Bruno) confuses Hummus and Hamas in an interview with Israeli and Palestinian scholars, creating much confusion.
  • Come to think of it, did you see You Don't Mess with the Zohan? (A work of genius.) Hummus features there too...
  • Nothing funny about tzatziki, apparently.
The Recipes

All from Pinch My Salt:


Everything was very easy, so nothing went wrong! It was all delicious. The sweetness of the tabbouleh made a great contrast with the sharpness of the tzatziki.


  • Would certainly have been easier with a food processor - my mini-prep is very mini, so had to blend everything in little batches. Forgot to put the oil on the top, oops.
  • Had to leave out the garlic, of course :( But it was still great.


  • Didn't use persimmons - just some apricots and a nectarine that we had already, and they worked perfectly.
  • Used about half the amount of herbs, just because we didn't have enough, and it was fine (though I know it's supposed to be very herby).


  • Bumped up the mint a bit - Mark Bittman had half a cup, and Pinch My Salt had a tablespoon, so I split the difference and used a quarter cup, which seemed to work.
  • Drained the cucumbers but didn't strain the yoghurt, and it was still good (even the next day).





On the table, Jack throwing a pita:

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shrimp with Noodles & Peanut Sauce

Another rainy day, another raid of the cupboard. Poking around... hmmm... noodles. Um, what else? Aha, frozen shrimp! And there's some (rather sad-looking) cilantro in the fridge. I know, let's ask Mr. B...

The Recipe: Peanut Sauce
From How to Cook Everything (10th Anniversary Edition) by Mark Bittman

He has a few different variations. Here are two - I went with the simple one, as we didn't have too many of the other ingredients in the house. But thought you might like to see the fancier one anyway, as it looks more zingy.

For the simple version:
  • 3 small dried red chiles (like Thai or piquin), seeded, or cayenne, or hot red pepper flakes, to taste
  • 1 tbspn brown sugar
  • 2 tbspns soy sauce, or more to taste
  • 0.5 cup chopped roasted peanuts or crunchy peanut butter [ours was smooth, oh well]
  • 0.25 cup sliced scallion [we didn't have any - the cupboard was pretty bare]
  • 0.25 cup minced fresh cilantro

For the fancier one - as above, minus the scallion or cilantro, and plus:

  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 shallots, peeled
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, white part only, peeled, trimmed, and thinly sliced (optional)
  • 2 tspns ground turmeric
  • 1 tbspn peanut oil or neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 2 tbspns freshly squeezed lime juice
  • salt
Makes approx. 2 cups (less for the simple version).

Instructions - Simple:

1) Put the chiles, sugar, soy sauce, and peanut into the food processor to blend, adding a little water or more soy sauce to get the consistency you like. [I skipped this step, and just mixed them in the saucepan.]

2) Then gently heat the sauce in a small saucepan over a low heat, or in the microwave. Finish with a quarter cup each of sliced scallion and minced fresh cilantro.

Instructions - Fancy:

1) Combine the chiles, garlic, shallots, lemongrass, and turmeric in a food processor and grind until fairly smooth; scrape down sides of machine as necessary.

2) Put the oil in a medium saucepan or skillet over medium heat. When hot, add the chile-garlic mixture and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients and whisk until smooth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens, about 15 mins.

3) Taste, and add a sprinkle of salt or a little soy sauce if necessary. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to a week (warm gently over a very low heat or in microwave before using).


Forgot to add the cilantro to the sauce, after all that. And we didn't have scallion. So threw in some lime juice, but it was still missing a little something (the cilantro and scallion, probably!)

Will try the fancy version another time.

But it was fun to pull a very edible meal together from a random selection of ingredients.


Only one - the sun came out for a nanosecond just in time.

Pasta Ceci

First of all, many apologies for the long absence. Plenty of cooking, but no blogging, sorry. So here are a couple of quick posts (just an hour till "Rescue Me"!)

First up, a slightly goofy rendition of rachel eats' pasta ceci (i.e. chickpeas - si, I speak Italian... not!)

Have made a pasta ceci before, but that was different, a pasta sauce. This is a hearty soup. OK, so it's not soup weather now, but anyone remember last week? (For those of you not in the NE USA, we were having the Great Flood here.)

Anyway, you're going to think I'm a lunatic, but the thing that made me happiest about this soup - it calls for a Parmesan rind! And we had one! How about that?!

The Recipe: Pasta Ceci
From rachel eats.


It was truly delicious, and will definitely go into rotation when the weather cools down again.

Though there was one small mistake... we had slightly the wrong kind of pasta: ditali instead of ditalini, they're about a million times bigger. So I think that's why it didn't come out as soupy, though maybe I'll throw in a bit more stock/water next time too.


Not too many, sorry, it was such a gloomy day.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Saturday Spectacular: Chicken Tikka Masala & Onion Kulchas

This was so much fun!

I can't eat garlic (bummer) so Indian food in a restaurant is basically impossible, but until recently it hadn't occurred to me to try making it at home - because I didn't make anything at home, and because Indian food seems, you know, complicated.

Now, to be fair, chicken tikka masala is about as Indian as English muffins are English. In fact, it's much more English than English muffins: it's been called Britain's national dish, and apparently was (possibly) invented in Glasgow. Not that Glasgow's English, of course. OK, I'll shut up now, I've even confused myself.

Let's just get to the recipe, which I found via Chaos in the Kitchen.

This brings me to one of the best things about the world o' food blogs. You click on a link and - whoooaaaa - you fly through a portal, but instead of landing on the side of the Jersey Turnpike you find yourself in the middle of Big Sky Country, in a huge farmhouse kitchen, where a (rather cute) tatooed pastor (?!) is cooking a curry. He mentions naan, and before you know what's happening, you're deep in another site surrounded by rotis, and saags, and dals, and channas...

Anyway, back to dinner - it was really amazing. Though a lot of work for a (very slow) newbie. Started the kulcha dough at about 5:30pm, and sat down to dinner at 8pm. And that was with the help of my trusty assistant, who broiled the chicken and took care of the turmeric rice, while I did the sauce and the onion kulchas.

There was minimal bickering, even though we were tired and hungry, because we could tell that something special was coming together. It was totally worth it, and highly recommended.

The Recipe: Chicken Tikka Masala
From guest poster Pastor Ryan on Pioneer Woman Cooks.

The Recipe: Onion Kulchas
From ChefInYou. These were dreamy - a must-try. Easier than naan, because they just use baking powder & soda instead of yeast. But I still want to try naan, and will come back here for a recipe - it's a great resource, stuffed with good things that seem very doable.


Chicken Tikka Masala:
  • Followed Katie at Chaos's suggestion re using half-and-half instead of cream, and in future might use half a cup less (oooh, the abstemiousness!)
  • Also held back on the salt, with no ill effects
  • But did use the full amount of Garam Masala, even though it seemed like a lot - it was perfect
  • Watch out for turmeric - it stains!!

Onion Kulchas:

  • Sauteed the onion for the filling, as really hate raw onion, and wasn't confident it would cook enough otherwise, but maybe this wasn't necessary
  • Cooked them on the stove-top, like the tortillas (the whole process is very similar, actually)
  • Mine weren't round, but apart from that seemed good - fluffy, with a fabulous combination of tastes tucked inside. Though haven't eaten one before, so they may have been all wrong


It was dark! So just snatched a couple of the leftovers today...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Rolo Cookies - Pure, Gorgeous Evil

Ever since I saw this on Cooking Stuff it's been lurking in that place in my mind - you know the one, where you keep the things you know you shouldn't do, but will. Sin in cookie form.

The Recipe: Rolo Cookies

Used the recipe from Spryte's Place, as that's what Bob said he'd do next time. But followed his example and just rolled them in sugar, rather than walnuts. He has great step-by-step pics too.


Almost made a pretty mighty mistake. Since I was halving the recipe, quickly jotted down the ingredients in the quantities I was going to need. But wrote baking powder instead of baking soda! Doh!

Luckily noticed before it was too late. Consulted baking911, it was all too confusing, so came to the conclusion that it wasn't worth the risk of not fixing. So threw out the flour/cocoa powder/baking powder mix. Aargh! It killed me, being a child of a child of the (last) Depression.

Did I really have to do that? Would love to know...

But I did come up with a pretty good technique for putting them together, to toot my own horn.
a) chill the dough before starting, and intermittently throughout (it was soooo hot in our kitchen)
b) scoop a tbspn of dough, then push the rolo into the dough while still on the spoon, fold up the dough around the rolo, then push the ball out of the spoon, and roll in the sugar

Oh, and the packets of Rolos we get around here have 8 pieces in them. Half Spryte's recipe came out to exactly 24 rolo cookies - amazing!



Cookie balls

Done - photo a bit weird - they're actually quite dark

Asparagus Risotto

Tonight's dinner - nice, but not as good as the pea risotto, methinks. A tad bland.

The Recipe: Asparagus Risotto
From Mr. B. online at NYTimes.


The point of this article is that you don't need to stir risotto constantly. That may be true, but not sure that even Mr. B. totally buys into his argument here. In his How to Cook Everything (aka The Bible), he says you shouldn't walk away from the stove for more than a minute, and that seems about right, in my (extremely limited) experience.


Beginning Step 4.

End Step 4.

On plate, baaad pic. Garnish is some left-over prosciutto, sauteed a couple of mins:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Herby-Crust Pizza

This was actually my second time making pizza, and it seems that the first time wasn't a fluke. The crust was, if anything, even better - because of an added ingredient...

The Recipe: Herby-Crust Pizza
Used the same recipe as last time, but followed a tip that Bob from Cooking Stuff left in a comment: adding some dried herbs to the flour when making the dough. Genius!!!

I was making half the recipe and added probably just under a tspn of dried rosemary to the mix, and it was perfect. So would guess you'd maybe want about 1.5-2 tspns if you're making the full amount (probably that changes depending on your herb too).

So, the pizza base was great, but I'm still learning a couple of things about toppings, as you can see:
  • How to walk the fine line with caramelized onions between caramel and burnt :\
  • When to add the basil - someone said a couple of mins before the end, which is what I did, but it really dried out; someone else advised just to put it on when it comes out of the oven so it just wilts, will try that next time
But other than that it seems to get better every time! :)

FYI, toppings were: fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, "caramelized" onions, parmesan, and basil.


Potato-Pea-Mint Salad

What kind of an idiot makes potato salad on a nasty chilly day, and pizza and cookies on a scorching hot one? That would be moi.

Here's the potato salad. It was yummy.

The Recipe: Potato Salad with Peas & Mint
From Chow.


They say it serves 4 but unless it's all you're eating I'd say 6 is more like it.

I fancied it up a little bit with pancetta and creme fraiche instead of bacon and cream, since we had some already (blimey!)


Only got one, pretty bad, sorry

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Yaaay! I'm on Foodie Blogroll!

Thanks for having me! And a big welcome to any Foodie Blogroll users! Most of you can probably cook, but I'm trying everything (well, a lot of things) here, so there should be something that's new to you.

Highlights of the past few weeks: homemade pasta, pizza, and tortillas, cheese souffle, and cookies 'n' kittens. Coming soon: quiche, profiteroles, and cake, plus more healthy-ish dinners, and occasionally cats (not cooked). With some British food thrown in, and very likely some disasters.

Anyway, I'm just muddling through, so would love any advice you can give, and to hear from other newbie cooks too.

For anyone who doesn't know the Foodie Blogroll, check out the red thing in the right-hand column. It's a great way to discover other blogs (there are over 4000), and they have a forum, contests, and other stuff too.

And thanks to you all - loyal readers and new ones! More cooking posts very soon...

Fun Link: A List of Lists

Bored at work? Not any more! In case you haven't seen it, here's EndlessSimmer's Top Ten Top Ten Food Lists. Includes best food hacks, craziest religious sightings in food, most creative uses of bacon, etc., etc. Enjoy!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Homemade Pasta, Messily

The inspiration here came from a post I found on Macheesmo when browsing his Learn to Cook section. Inspiration actually being an important word. He says (hope he won't mind me quoting): "This is one of those posts that I think really embodies what I’m trying to do with this site. I’ve never made fresh pasta before. The excuse I’ve always said is that I don’t have a pasta press. But a few weeks ago I got to thinking that you know what, pasta was made before pasta presses. Not having that one little piece of equipment shouldn’t stop me from giving it a shot."

Well, I don't have a pasta press either. And, unlike Macheesmo, I don't have any idea what I'm doing. But once he'd pointed out that you could make pasta with a rolling pin, it had to be tried. After all, that's the spirit of this blog, right? Cooking without a clue...

The Recipe: Homemade Pasta
From Mark Bittman, via Macheesmo. I used regular all-purpose flour, rather than semolina. Will try semolina next time, it's apparently a better taste.

It went awry pretty much instantly. You put the flour on your kneading surface, and make a well in it. Then you put your eggs in the well. But, without thinking, I'd beaten the eggs, then noticed that neither he nor Mr. B. had done that. Oh. It probably doesn't matter. Actually, it does. The eggs overflowed my well, and ran all over the board, the table, and a chair:

Frantically, I tried to pen them in with my hands and sop them up with flour - the board, table, and my fingers turned into a gloopy mess. Because I'd lost about a quarter of the eggs, the "dough" was just a bunch of dry crumbs. So I added some water. And it turned into a sticky blob. So added some flour. And it looked like this. Compare and contrast with Macheesmo's.

Mr. B. has some pretty helpful instructions on kneading: "Continue kneading until the dough is completely smooth, somewhat skinlike, with some elasticity (if you break off a piece, it should stretch a bit before breaking; if it breaks off immediately, keep kneading."

So I kneaded mine till it was like skin (rather a repulsive idea at the best of times). Unfortunately, it was like the skin of an elderly gentleman.

The rolling out part went OK. Mr. B. suggested dividing the dough into three, and I followed his advice because I only had a tiny surface area to work on. The disadvantage is that you have to do the rolling three times. Way to get in shape!

But should have checked out Macheesmo's pics before cutting - my strips were way too wide.

But looked quite pasta-like.

But took waaaay longer to cook (about 8-10 mins). Though I comforted myself with the fact that even Macheesmo said his were too fat. They puff up when you cook them too.

But they tasted perfectly fine. Did them with some sauteed shallot, creme fraiche, peas (rather a lot), and chopped Italian parsley.

The conclusion? Ridiculously fun. And I'd like a pasta press.

(More) Pix

Bad pic, sorry - looks a bit disgusting!