Julie Sahni’s Gosht Kari

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I’m not big on cookbooks.  I know, I know, it’s the same complaint we all have.  I love looking through them, and I daydream about having bookcases filled with cookbooks.  But those daydreams generally go like this: leisurely flipping through a couple of cookbooks while enjoying a late morning cup of coffee and Tartine croissant, and then casually spending the rest of the day shopping for and cooking whatever I picked out that morning,  then upon serving the meal to friends and loved ones, having it gushed over and praised to high heavens during a cozy family meal. Not exactly reality.

The reality is that when I check out a cookbook from the library or actually purchase one and bring it home, I rarely make it beyond flipping through the pages and reading the headnotes.  I’ve been known to make a list of the recipes that look good and copy down ingredient lists and instructions in shorthand out of library books, usually when the book is already 2 or 3 days past due and I’m feeling guilty about not cooking from the book in the last 3 weeks, let alone returning it on time.  Or when I’m feeling guilty about the books I’ve bought and never actually cooked from, I’ll bust out the little sticky flags and mark what looks good- but I usually don’t try more than one or two recipes, even if they’re great.

What’s the deal? I’ve decided I’m stuck in a vicious cycle, one that  most of us find ourselves in now and then: kitchen comfort.  We become content with the repertoire of meals we’ve amassed that not only fall within our resource constraints but that our family will readily eat.  We’re secure in the same list of the ingredients to add to the unwritten weekly shopping list, the ability to fall-back on old favorites on a Wednesday night when you walk in the door late and everybody’s hungry already.  Cooking becomes easy.  As the wife of a picky eater and a woman who refuses to eat most prepackaged and processed “foods,” I’ve struggled over the last few years to expand my List of Acceptable and Realistic Suppers.  Picking up a cookbook and flipping to a new recipe might entail ingredients I don’t already have in the cupboards or that we won’t eat, or flavors that we might not like.  I’ve become lethargic, and who wants to cook when the words “supper” and “boring” become synonyms?

So in this context of boredom and hesitance, thank goodness somebody mentioned Julie Sahni.  Seriously.  I’ve been hugely lacking in cooking inspiration and motivation, and this woman delivered exactly the swift kick in the you-know-what that I needed.  I picked up Classic Indian Cooking at the library last week and spent a few evenings flipping through the pages, trying to pick out a recipe or two to try over the weekend.  I wanted to stick with something fairly basic, which is always hard to discern from looking at ingredient lists for most Indian cooking – so many spices and aromatics!  The first one I picked was Gosht Kari, or meat curry, which boasts a relatively short list of ingredients, all things I knew I could easily get.  I made a quick trip for ground coriander and fresh cilantro, but otherwise had the rest of the ingredients already.

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The recipe starts with familiar actions: browning of beef, chopping of onions, mincing ginger and garlic.  “I can handle this,” I told myself, feeling a boost of confidence at the rhythms of the familiar.  As onions turned from white to pale to golden, I measured out fragrant spices.  As the dish started to come together, the smell was almost breathtaking.  These were smells that I’d never had coming from my own kitchen!  While the braise simmered on the stovetop, I peeled potatoes, sipped a glass of wine, soaked the rice.  Before I even tasted it, I knew it was going to be amazing.  The mix of confidence and novelty was coursing through me.  I was excited.  And better yet, I was salivating.  It smelled delicious.

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It also didn’t hurt that the meal was utterly fantastic.  Warm and hearty textures and a complex flavor profile.  I had to have more.  The next day, I flipped open the book again and settled on Mughalai Korma, or Moghual braised chicken, with saag to accompany (pictured above).  The mix of ginger, cardamom, cloves, and coriander in the chicken sounded intriguing and delicious.  Again the process felt comfortable, and again the smells from stovetop were phenomenal.  It goes without saying that all three dishes were great.  Honestly, the saag was my least favorite; I’m not a huge fan of cooked spinach, but the combo of cumin seed and garam masala was quite nice, and the potatoes were decadent.  In any case, two out of three keepers is hardly failure!  Both the chicken and the beef dishes will be made again in very soon order, and this book is going to be added to my bookshelf pronto… only this time, I don’t intend to ignore it.

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Julie Sahni’s Gosht Kari
very barely adapted from Classic Indian Cooking

Serves 6 as a main dish with rice, or 8 with side dishes

8 tablespoons ghee
3 pounds boneless beef or lamb, trimmed well and cut into 1-inch cubes
2-3 meaty beef or lamb bones (I used the bones I cut out of my roast along with an oxtail)
4 small onions or 2 large onions (about 4 cups chopped)
4 cloves garlic (about 4 teaspoons minced)
3-4 inches fresh ginger (about 3 tablespoons minced)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1-15 oz. can diced tomatoes, or 2 cups chopped fresh tomatoes
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 pound of potatoes, about 4 medium-sized
chopped cilantro for serving

Place a heavy-bottomed pot on medium-high heat with 4 tablespoons of ghee.  While the oil is heating, pat the meat cubes dry to help browning.  Once the oil is very hot, brown some of the meat cubes, being careful not to crowd the meat (this will cause steaming instead of browning).  Brown the meat in batches, removing browned meat to a plate with a slotted utensil.  Once the meat is browned, add the bones to the pot and lightly brown them as well, then place them on the plate with the meat.  While browning the meat, finely chop the onions.

Add the remaining 4 tablespoons of ghee to the pot and scrape the bottom to release the stuck on bits of meat.  Add the onions and brown them, stirring frequently to avoid burning and sticking.  While browning the onions, mince or grate the garlic and the ginger, and measure out the cumin, coriander, turmeric, and red pepper into small bowl.  Put a kettle with about 5 cups of water on to boil.

When the onions are a dark golden brown, add the garlic and ginger and fry for a minute, stirring almost constantly.  Add the spices and continue to fry and stir vigorously for about 30 seconds.  Return the browned meat and the bones to the pot, pouring in any juice that the meat had released onto the plate.  Also add the tomatoes, salt, and 4 cups of boiling water; stir to combine.  Bring to a boil; then cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally

While the dish is simmering, peel the potatoes and cut into quarter (for medium potatoes), or approximately 2 x 3 inch pieces.  (If serving with rice and forgoing the resting time, this is also a good time to rinse/soak your rice.)  After 90 minutes, add the potatoes and stir; then recover and continue to simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes and meat are both tender.  Julie says to let the dish rest for at least 30 minutes but preferably 2 hours; I was starving by the time it was ready and let it rest for a mere 15 minutes and it was fantastic as-is.  Before serving, remove the bones and check for salt, then reheat to a simmer.  Serve with rice and/or bread and chopped cilantro.  Leftovers are even better in the following days, though Julie suggests freezing if not eating within 3 days in the refrigerator.

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Filed under Clean Eating, Fall, Gluten-Free, Main dishes, Winter

concord grape jam

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I hate to be a copycat, but I have to ask: Have you ever had a concord grape?

Goodness gracious, these things are insane, not to mention beautiful.  These are the grapiest grapes you can imagine.  They cook into the most brilliant purple you can think of it.  And as you might expect, these are both very, very good attributes, particularly in the case of jam.

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I used to have a serious hang-up over grape.  Not grapes, but grape, the flavor.  I was one of those constantly sick kids, and in the 80s and 90s, sniffling or coughing meant one thing: Dimetapp.  That horribly fake grape-flavored concoction guaranteed to put your kids to sleep and dry up their nasal passages.  Dimetapp completely ruined my ability to enjoy purple Jolly Ranchers, Laffy Taffys, popsicles, and suckers.  I preferred to have no jelly if grape jelly was the only option.  Even purple Skittles had to be paired with reds in an attempt to mask the flavor.  Oh, the sacrifice.

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So when I saw Yossy’s grape jam recipe come through my reader, I admired the bright purple preserve, ooh’ed over the pretty pastry, impressed that somebody would take time to squish all those grapes.  But I wasn’t interested in grape jam, or grape pies.  I never expected to see concord grapes at my local farmer’s market, grown just outside of town by a grandmother who informed me very proudly that her husband still hand-picks all these grapes, every year.  Out of politeness, I took a smooth grape from her wrinkly hand and popped it in my mouth, not expecting much.  “Holy crap!”  I gasped once I got over the initial wave of grapiness, the balanced sweet and earthy and tart.  She practically giggled and said, “One or two baskets?”  “Better go with 3,” I said.  “I’m going to have to make some jam this weekend.”

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Concord Grape Jam
adapted from Yossy Arefi at Apt. 2B Baking Co.

Makes approximately 1.7 pints, or 3-1/2 half-pint jars

I had about 2.2 lbs. of grapes when I got home, so I split the difference between the 1lb and 4lbs recipe but used the “jam” methodology.  I also reduced the sugar a bit to allow the “zing!” of the grapes to shine.  Splitting the recipe in half gave me no problems at all, and I ended up with an unbelievably luscious, bright jam.  Definitely added to my annual jamming list.

2 lbs. concord grapes
1 lbs white sugar
juice from 1 lemon (about 1.5 oz.)
juice from 1/2 orange (about 0.75 oz.)

Wash and de-stem the grapes, and separate the grape flesh from the skins by squeezing or pinching out the flesh and seeds into a bowl; reserve the skins.  In a medium pot over medium-high, heat the grape innards until the seeds start to separate from the flesh.  This can take from 3 minutes to 10 minutes depending on the ripeness of your grapes, and it could take some gentle prodding or vigorous stirring, or somewhere in between.  Pour over a fine mesh sieve into a large, heavy, non-reactive pot (such as a dutch oven), stirring and pushing to separate as much of the flesh and juice from the seeds as you can. Discard the seeds.

To the newly separated grape flesh and juice, add the sugar, grape skins, and citrus juices.   Stir well and bring to a simmer; reduce heat and continue to simmer, stirring frequently, until the jam reaches your preferred thickness.  This should take 20-30 minutes of light simmering and frequent stirring.  I use the frozen plate test, but you can also boil until the jam reaches 220 F or use some other method of your choice.

Pour into jars and can using a hot-water bath for 10 minutes, or keep in the fridge or freezer.

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Filed under Condiments, etc., Desserts, Fall, Gluten-Free

almond fig cake

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On a Thursday a few weeks ago, I came home and took a few pictures of the changing leaves.  Then, I came inside and made a cake.

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Not just a cake; this cake.  Figs are either past their prime or almost past their prime, depending on where you are, but I was able to scoop some up for cheap at my food co-op that day.  Generally I prefer green figs for eating- they’re firmer and not as sticky sweet as their purple or black counterparts.   But a girl in Wisconsin can’t say no to cheap figs, regardless of color, and I was determined to make a mostly-almond gluten-free cake, like a cross between the one I’d seen on Joy The Baker and like the many almond meal cakes on Rachel Eats. {Pssst, this one’s my favorite.}

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This was not my first attempt at an almond fig cake, and the first one was maddening.  Too much liquid up front due to bad math resulted in me whisking in more and more tapioca starch and almond meal in vain.  The cake was good, but it took over an hour to bake and the figs were too heavy for the batter- they sank like stones.  Soggy figs cooked inside a cake are not very good, and I ended up picking around the fruit and just eating the cake.

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Then, that Thursday, I found this pin.  What!  The cake I was looking for… almost.  Of course I couldn’t resist tweaking.  With the lengthening sun filling my kitchen with crisp fall sunlight, I poured a Campari Shandy, pulled out my discount figs, and got to work.  The result is gluten-free, Paleo but for the 1/4 cup sugar, and absolutely perfect if you prefer your cakes dense and flavorful and without a wisp of frosting in sight.

Almond Fig Cake
One 9-inch cake
By David Tanis

4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons honey
140 grams almond meal
35 grams potato, arrowroot, or tapioca starch (I used potato)
1/4 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1/2 almond extract
8 to 14 ripe figs, depending on the size of your figs and how many you want (I used 9, but the original calls for 12-14)

Heat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a 9-inch tart, pie, or cake pan. In a small saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat.   Once the butter is browned, remove from heat and whisk in the honey.  Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, whisk together the almond meal, starch, baking powder, cardamom, and salt.  In the saucepan, whisk the eggs and almond extract into the butter and honey mixture; then pour into the dry mix and stir until just combined.  Pour batter into the buttered pan.

Carefully wash and dry figs.  Remove the stems and cut the figs in half.  Arrange fig halves cut-side-up over the top of the batter.  Sprinkle the top of the figs and batter with the reserved 2 tablespoons sugar, and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden and a cake tester comes out dry.  Cool before serving, if you can resist.

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Filed under Breads, Clean Eating, Desserts, Fall, Gluten-Free, Summer

bourbon cider

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I wish I could come up with something more creative and alluring for a title, but to be honest, I’m exhausted.  The sprint to the end of the summer has left me worn out.  The yard work, the garden explosion, the canning and fermenting, the end-of-summer weekend trips and errands, not to mention work?  I’m spent.  This drink that I cobbled together from a couple of places was just what I needed to accompany the knit-leggings-and-solo-bonfire party I held for myself tonight.  It hit my sweet tooth and warmed me up- just what I need for the beginning of fall.

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Serves 1

2 oz. bourbon
4 oz. apple cider
1/2 tsp lemon juice
3-5 drops angostura bitters
small pinch of allspice
slightly larger pinch of cinnamon
2-3 oz. ginger beer

Shake together bourbon, cider, lemon juice, bitters, allspice, and cinnamon.  Pour in a tall glass over ice.  Top with ginger beer; stir to combine.

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Filed under 30 min. or less, Beverage, Fall, Summer

Shish Taouk (spiced chicken kebab)

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I imagine I’m sitting outside a tiny restaurant, white-washed stucco walls under a bleached umbrella, on a chair that wobbles on the uneven tile.  I’m in a cotton  maxi dress with tanned skinned under dappled sunlight, wavy salt-blown hair, looking great. (Hey, it’s my daydream-  and in daydreams, everything is clingy but flattering in a way that maxi dresses are NEVER really flattering on me. Just go with it.)

The sky is bright royal blue; the water, striking teal; flawless beaches stretch below rocky cliffs, and seagulls that never crap or chase after you or try to grab your food are calling from high above on the wind.

I know next to nothing about the Mediterranean, but that’s definitely how it appears in my daydreams.  This song always plays in my head when I think of anything coastal Mediterranean.  Ugh.  I’m a stereotype.

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Please, don’t let that embarrassing little daydream confessional steer you clear of this chicken.  Are these Turkish? Lebanese? Vaguely Middle Eastern? I’m not quite sure, but the marinade… it’s got a lotta stuff going on.  It’s complex.  Herby from the thyme, the mint, with some warmth from the aleppo and red pepper flakes. The tomato paste brings a savory-sweet backbone.

I know, the list of ingredients call for a lot of “things,” which is slightly daunting.  Don’t be daunted.  Put your leftover tomato paste in the freezer, save the rest of the bell pepper for easy fajitas, pick off some of that mint that’s taking over… the neighbor’s garden.  She won’t mind.   Breathe.  Marinate.  Open an adult beverage and hit the grill.  You can even put on a maxi dress.

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*Please, if you have time and you like garlic: make some of this two-minute toum to dip your chicken in.  You’ll be eating it on everything for the rest of the week, I promise.

You can start your prep the night before by mixing together all of the marinade ingredients except the fresh mint and refrigerating; then stirring in the chopped mint and chicken to marinate for an hour or so before firing up the grill.

Shish Taouk
Inspired by Saveur
Serves 2-3

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken (white or dark meat- I like a mix of breasts and thighs (!))
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon finely diced red pepper
1/2 to 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint (to taste)
1 tsp. each aleppo pepper, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and dried thyme
1/2 tsp. each oregano and black pepper
1 clove garlic crushed (I use 1/2 tsp. fermented garlic paste)

skewers or a grill pan

Mix together all of the ingredients but the chicken.  Cube the chicken into bite-sized pieces; stir into the marinade and refrigerate, allowing to sit for at least an hour and up to 8 hours.   If you’re using wooden skewers, soak them in warm water.  Before grilling, brush the grates with peanut oil or another high-heat oil to prevent sticking.  Skewer up the chicken and grill on medium high for 5-6 minutes, then flip and continue grilling for another 4-5 minutes, until both sides are nicely charred.  Serve with kachumbar, rice, on top of a salad, or in a pita.  Or however you want.  Leftovers are delicious!

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Filed under Chicken, Clean Eating, Gluten-Free, Main dishes, Summer

Summer Veg (grilled creamed corn and mixed roasted veggies)

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The story of my life:  I’m not sure what I’ve been up to, but I’m sure I’ve been busy.  Part of me actually does like being busy, having a sense of purpose and achievement.  But another part of me hates the part of me that over-glorifies being busy.  I love writing down and subsequently crossing things off a long to-do list, but I hate feeling trapped by the list, not actually caring about the doneness of the things on the list.  Who cares if I bleach the shower curtain?  Or if I put away that load of laundry? It’s just as clean sitting in a pile as it is crammed in a drawer.  Sometimes I’d just rather sit very still and try not to think.

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That being said, I do hate seeing a garden-grown vegetable go to waste, and summer is my time of excess.  I buy too many ears of corn at the market; the extra zucchini and eggplant in the garden look ignored and miffed in the August sun.  But I’ve found yet more ways to cope with my feelings of ineptitude (“I can’t believe I didn’t make eggplant parmesan with homemade tomato sauce on Friday night instead of pizza!” …Um, no.) and my overflowing crisper/garden.  Case in point: Luisa’s roasted vegetables, which make me feel virtuous.  Peppers! Carrots! Zucchinis! Throw it all in- together.  And that’s the brilliance.  But really, the brilliance is that the dish is amazing up front, but then a generous scoop is fantastic in a pan with a couple of eggs for breakfast, they’re delicious cold as a salad topping, and it’s easily and tastily reheated.   Check out her post here for the jist of it, or see below for my preferred ratio/mix of veggies.

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The second recipe I have to share with you is one for grilled creamed corn.  Do not underestimate how good this corn is, or how much fresh sweet corn a grown person can eat once it’s conveniently removed from the cob.  I’ve made this with 4 ears and we both stand over the pan, scraping up the very ends;  with 5 ears there is a small dish of leftovers that I try to nab for lunch before N does.  It’s a perfect accompaniment to anything grilled, as you grill the ears for 8-10 minutes while it’s heating up on high; then put your meat on, and let the corn rest while the main event is cooking.  About 15 minutes before your other grilled goods are ready to be eaten, slice the corn off the cobs and 5 minutes in the pan delivers a slightly spicy, tangy creamed corn with a hint of charred summer goodness.  It’s like sunshine in a pan.  With carbs.  And dairy. Win-win.

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My preferred method for cutting corn off the cob:  balance the ears on a small upside-down bowl that’s placed inside of a larger flat-bottomed bowl or baking pan (picture here is an 8×8 pan).  You elevate the corn so you can cut all the way down the length of the ear without hitting the side of the dish with your knife blade, but you still catch almost all of your corn nibs! Another great idea: use a bundt pan if you’ve got one.  You’re welcome.

Grilled Creamed Corn
Originally posted in summer 2010; updated and with new pictures

Serves 2-3

5 ears fresh sweet corn
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour (I use a generic gluten-free AP mix)
2/3 cup whole milk
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. aleppo pepper flakes (or red pepper flakes)
1/8 tsp. cayenne

Shuck the corn and soak for at least 5 minutes, up to 1 hour.  Heat your grill to high.  Place the corn on the grill with the length of the slats, so the corn nestles in between the grill slats.  Grill for 2-3 minutes until the bottom is partially charred and then turn the cob about a quarter of the way; repeat on all sides of the corn, which takes approximately 8-10 minutes, but be sure to keep an eye on it and turn when needed.  Remove from grill and allow to cool.  Once cool enough to handle, cut the corn from the cobs.  Melt the butter in a large skillet on medium heat; whisk in the flour and allow to cook for about 1 minutes, stirring constantly.  Increase the heat to medium high and slowly pour in the milk and buttermilk, whisking constantly to form a roux.  Once the milk is all in and there are no clumps, stir in the corn, salt, and spices.  Simmer for approximately 5 minutes on medium high heat, stirring almost constantly, crushing some of the corn against the bottom or the sides of the pan with a heavy spoon.  Serve warm.  Excellent reheated as well.

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Summer Veggie Confetti (or, Mixed Roasted Vegetables for Summer)
Serves 2-6, depending on how much you like your veg

Directly from Luisa at The Wednesday Chef, though I like a slightly different ratio of summery veggies, as follows:

1 medium onion
2 cloves garlic  (I use 1 tsp fermented garlic paste)
1 medium tomato
4-6 carrots
1 medium potato
2 small zucchini or summer squash (I like one yellow and one green)
1 small eggplant
1 bell pepper- any color (Luisa calls for red or yellow, but I actually really like a green pepper, or a mix of red and green)
2-3 T. olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher or crunchy salt (less if using table salt)1 tsp. dried herb/spice blend- I like an equal mix of dried basil, sage, thyme, and red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 375 F.  Quarter the onion, then slice thinly.  Mince or crush the garlic.  Dice the remainder of the vegetables into 1/2 inch to 1 inch pieces, not letting any one piece get to be much bigger an an inch.  Toss veggies in a 9×13 baking pan, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with salt and herbs, and carefully mix to combine (careful not to crush the tomatoes too much).  Roast for 40-50 minutes, stirring twice- once after about 25 minutes, and again 10-15 minutes later.  Gorge. Feel virtuous for eating so many veggies. Repeat.

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Filed under 30 min. or less, Clean Eating, Gluten-Free, Side dishes, Summer, Vegetables, Vegetarian

the long stretch (whiskey-spiked iced tea)

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We’re in it.  Days are bright and hot. Nights are short and leave a film of dew on the yard.  Late nights and early mornings, watermelon and zucchini and peaches, dirty foot prints, darkened skin, gin and tonics.  The long stretch of high summer, July into August, is possibly the most fleeting time of the year, and I always feel a deep need to make the most of it.

Making a pitcher of this tea is possibly the easiest thing you could do to start the weekend off right.  Green and black teas, a couple lemons, a bottle of ginger beer, and our favorite brown liquor.  Whiskey has a firm grasp on fall and winter, but in this drink, it does right by summer too.  I’m particular to Bulleit Rye, but bourbon certainly isn’t bad.

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Whiskey-Spiked Iced Tea
Inspired by Thug Kitchen (nsfw!)
Makes about 84 oz.

2 bags black tea
2 bags green tea (ginger and/or citrus green tea is great too)
2 lemons
1/4 c. maple syrup (or agave or honey)
1-1/2 cups whiskey (rye or bourbon preferably)
1 bottle ginger beer

Pour 4 cups of boiling water over the black and green tea bags and let steep for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, juice one of the lemons and thinly slice the other.  Remove the tea bags, add the maple syrup, and stir to dissolve.  To the tea add 4 cups of cold water, the lemon juice, and the whiskey, and stir to combine.  Add the lemon slices and let chill in the fridge.  Before serving, carefully stir in the bottle of ginger beer, starting with half of the bottle and adding more to taste. (This is for personal preference- I like more ginger beer, but most of my friends preferred less.)

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Filed under 30 min. or less, Beverage, Summer