Saturday, September 26, 2009

Makin' Bacon

A couple of months ago, I connected over to imafoodblog where I saw a post about home-cured bacon. From that moment, I was obsessed. Even though I make my own pickles and cure my own corned beef it had simply never occurred to me that I could make my own bacon.

Now I can say that:

    a) it can be done
    b) it's wonderfully easy
    c) it is inexpensive
    d) it's delicious (well duh!)
    e) mmmm.. bacon...

Because it was the first time, we stuck with fairly tried and true - made a slab of pepper bacon and one of maple bacon. Now I understand what my parents meant when they said that they loved both us kids differently but equally.

We followed the basic technique described by Nick, Sara and Geoff in their post How to Cure and Smoke Bacon with a few modifications:
  • I alternated applications of salt and additional flavorings, so one night I salted one slab, then the next night I rubbed in some additional maple syrup.
  • Since we don't have a proper smoker, we smoked our bacon in a Weber kettle. It worked perfectly.

The slabs just prior to smoking

What I would do differently next time: I followed the directions and rinsed both slabs before smoking. Next time, I would pat them dry, but rinsing washed off that gorgeous pepper crust we had going and probably some of the maple flavoring. So maybe they're right and I'm wrong, but I look forward to the next time to test it out!

On the grill - we built the fire on one side only to keep it cool and circulate the smoke.

Oh yeah, and I would make more. We made enough, but it is so tasty and lean that I know we'll get through it. You can't really ever have too much bacon.

Sunday, September 20, 2009


We were thrilled when Debyi of Healthy Vegan Kitchen announced the Daring Cooks challenge this month: Dosas. And they had to be vegan. And gluten free. This seemed exactly like what I wanted from participating in the Daring Cooks - the impetus to make something that we really like to eat, but would never have considered cooking on our own. Not to mention the additional dairy/meat/gluten constraints.

So Debyi published a lovely recipe which we intended to follow, honestly - and our fellow Daring Cooks that did follow it closely reported that it was good. But there were parts of it that didn't feel authentically Indian (as if I would really know, but oregano???). Furthermore, the traditional way of making dosas with ground lentils and rice seemed more authentic and true to the spirit of challenging ourselves. And then I saw a recipe for rava dosas, which involve rava (semolina I think - at least that's what I used) and rice flour. We had to try those too - so we ended up making 2 different types of dosa, two fillings, and then a sambar, two chutneys and an avocado sauce (thus contradicting ourselves, since I don't know that avocado sauce is authentically Indian either. Oh well.) It was all vegan, though the rava dosas fail the gluten-free test.

Marvellous. Every last bite. Even though I always have to try to decide which item I like best, I couldn't pick a winner. If you like Indian food, you'll love these. If you don't think you like Indian food, I honestly bet that you would like these. I personally am gun-shy about Indian food as I have had so many bad curries. This isn't one of them; no curry powder was involved in the making of this dinner. Just try it.

Neither dosa recipe is a good choice for getting a meal on the table in the next 30 minutes, but neither requires a whole lot of fuss and attention, just time. If you're in a hurry(ish) go for the rava dosa - it can be made in a much shorter time than the other (nameless) one. It's pretty much like a crepe: make the batter, let it stand an hour, then cook away. The others take about 2 days just to get to the point to cook. Still, try them sometime. it's easy, tasty, healthy, cool, possibly something new. It doesn't get much better than that, does it?

So, the recipe line-up:

Rava Dosas
Onion-Potato Subji (filling)
Curried Garbanzo (filling)
Avocado Sauce
Tamarind Chile chutney
Mint ginger chile chutney

Note on quantities: we made the recipes below as described and I think that all told it would have served at least 10 people. Some of the ingredients do require a trip to the local Indian store if you have one, otherwise, substitute as you think is appropriate.

left: "Regular" Dosa
right: Rava Dosa


This recipe was from Indian Food Forever.  To the gringo like me, the closest analogy to these guys would be a buckwheat crepe. Not that they taste like buckwheat, but they had that solid texture and a similar color.

1 1/2 cups uncooked rice
1/2 cup uncooked urad dal (black lentils)
1 Tbsp salt

Soak the rice and the dal separately overnight or up to 24 hours. Scoop some of the rice and some of the dal into a blender and puree with just a bit of water (less than covering the solids but enough to not choke your blender) to puree the mixture. You want it to be reasonably smooth. Mine came out pretty much like a thin milkshake. Pour into a clean bowl and repeat to blend all the rice and lentils. Add salt. Cover your batter and then leave it on the counter for another 12 hours or so.

Overall, I wish our dosas had been thinner, so I would shoot for a thin pancake batter in consistency - add water as you see fit. To cook, heat the oil in a cast iron skillet or large griddle if you have one. Pour the batter in a spiral from the outside in, don't immediately worry if there are gaps. To fill in the gaps we found it best to let the base cook just a bit, then use the ladle to smooth batter into them.

Cook until lightly browned, then flip and brown the other side (Or not; we did, but I have read that there are those who only cook them on one side). This will take about 4-5 min. Be patient. Once cooked, fill, and then pop them in the oven to keep warm until you're ready to serve.

Rava Dosas
This recipe was adapted from Sailus Food, where there is an excellent description of how to cook the dosas. These dosas were much lighter in texture and slightly holey, though not in a bad way. These are a bit more like a traditional french crepe.

2 cups semolina/rava
1/2 cup rice flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 scallions, sliced paper thin
1 red chile pepper, sliced thin
2 tsp salt
6 cups water

Combine all ingredients except for the oil and then let sit for an hour. It should be the consistency of buttermilk.

Add water as needed to thin it, or let it sit a little longer if you need it to thicken. The flour settles out quickly on this one - you'll want to stir it occasionaly and to keep it stirred during the cooking process.

To cook: heat oil in your cast iron skillet or griddle, and then cook as directed above. These dosas may take a little less time, but you still want to brown them like a pancake. It may help to brush a little oil around the edges if they are a bit sticky.

left: Curried Garbanzo filling
right: Potato Onion Subji

Potato Onion Subji
This recipe is adapted from Indian Food Recipes from Bharathi's Kitchen. It is the filling for the classic Dosa Masala. Like many dishes with complex flavors, this one is best if you can make it in advance then reheat at serving time.

3 medium russet potatoes
1 medium onion
1 jalapeno pepper
10 curry leaves
1/4 tsp turmeric
1 1/4 tsp split peas
1 tsp urud dal
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1 Tbsp oil
2 tsp salt

Peel the potatoes, cut into large chunks and boil until cooked through.

Slice the onions into radial cuts and slice the pepper thinly. In a saucepan, toast the mustard seed, split peas and dal until browned. Add the onions and peppers and cook until the onions are translucent. Add the curry leaves and cook another minute.

Drain the potatoes, then dice into roughly 1/2" pieces (smaller than a typical potato salad). Stir into the oinion/spice mix, add salt and make sure that it's all blended. Add water if you need to moisten it.

Curried Garbanzo Filling
Again, this one is best if made ahead a bit. No worries if you don't have time for that though.

2 cups dried garbanzo beans (or 2 cans of garbanzos)
1 large tomato
2 tsp ginger, minced
1 tsp tomato paste
2 tsp fenugreek/methi seeds
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1/4 cup coconut milk
1 Tbsp salt
1 anaheim chile, diced

Soak the garbanzo beans overnight. Rinse and then cook in a saucepan until soft, about an hour.

Dice the tomato and saute in oil with ginger until it thickens slightly. Add the tomato paste and chile peppers and saute until the peppers have softened.

Separately, toast the cumin and fenugreek seeds, then grind in a mortar and pestle. Add spices, salt and coconut milk to the beans, then cook another 10 min.

Avocado Sauce

2 medium avocados
juice of 1 lime
1 Tbsp cilantro, chopped
1/2 cup soy milk (remember, this was vegan, you can use whatever you want)

Bash up the avocadoes. Puree with the lime juice, add cilantro and salt to taste. Dilute with soy milk until it is very thick but pourable.

Tamarind Chile Chutney
This recipe is adapted from Indian Food Recipes from Bharathi's Kitchen.
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup tamarind paste
1 Tbsp cilantro
1 long red chile
1 tsp red lentils
4-5 curry leaves

Toast the lentils, then crush with a mortar and pestle. Add the chopped chile and mash to a smooth paste. Add the curry leaves (removing any stalky bits) and mash. Add the coconut, tamarind and cilantro, then mix well. Salt to taste.

Mint Ginger Chile Chutney

1/2 - 1" knob of ginger, peeled
1 cup mint leaves
juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 jalapeno chile
1/4 - 1/2 cup soy milk

Mash up all ingredients except for milk in a mortar and pestle until you get a smooth puree. Add the milk to achieve a just-pourable consistency.

Top: Sambar
Bottom Left: Tamarind Chile Chutney
Bottom Center: Mint Ginger Chile Chutney
Bottom Right: Avocado Sauce

This recipe was adapted from If you can't obtain sambar powder to season the soup, check this website out for a recipe to make the powder.

This soup customarily serves as a sort of dipping sauce for the dosas (assuming you haven't smothered them in avocado sauce like we did). However, mine came out pretty thick and chunky, so not so good for dipping, but even tastier than the restaurant versions that I've had if I say so myself.

1 cup red lentils (toor dal)
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp oil
2 tsp tamarind paste
8 curry leaves
5 small dried red chiles
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp fenugreek/methi seeds
1 large tomato
2 Tbsp sambar powder
1 1/2 cup vegetables of choice (I used eggplant, tomatoes and green beans)
1/4 cup cilantro leaves, chopped

Wash the lentils thoroughly. In a large saucepan, heat 2 cups of water, then add the lentils, turmeric and 1 tsp
oil. Cook gently until the lentils are soft - 40-60 min.

In a separate pan, heat 1 tsp oil, then tear the chiles into chunks and add them to the pan. Add also the mustard seed, fenugreek and curry leaves and sautee for 2 minutes. Add the diced onion and cook until lightly browned. When cooked, add to the pan with the lentils (once they are cooked too, of course). Dice the tomato and the vegetables and add them also to the soup. Mix the tamarind paste with 1/4 cup of water and stir into the soup. Add in the sambar powder and cook about 10 minutes until the vegetables have all softened. Add water as needed to achieve your desired consistency.

Remove from heat, stir in the cilantro and serve.

We served our dosa feat with pappadoms on the side. These snacks we also purchased from the Indian shop. It was all I could do not to back up the truck when I took a good look at the label.

To cook, simply microwave 1 pappadom for about 40 seconds.


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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Gnocchi

Have you noticed that nearly every recipe for gnocchi starts with the preface that 'while other gnocchi recipes are gummy and horrible, this recipe is great'? If that's true, then why is it that if you order gnocchi, you have roughly even odds of receiving horrible balls of gluey glop?

I'll let you in on a secret: it's not the recipe, it's the technique. A few years ago I determined that it was time to overcome my fear of gnocchi and take a course in how to make them taught by Staffan Terje, now chef at Perbacco in San Francisco. He taught us to make 8 different kinds of gnocchi and I now make potato gnocchi, semolina gnocchi, ricotta-spinach gnocchi and even celery root gnocchi without a tremble in my heart. Still, until last night, the butternut squash gnocchi had eluded my grasp.

Now I too can say, other butternut squash gnocchi recipes may lead you to a plateful of glue, but this recipe is different. And I have the step-by-step instructions to back up that claim. Follow this recipe and you'll have richly squash-flavored and wonderfully light gnocchi. More importantly, you should be able to apply this technique to any other gnocchi recipe and also be reasonably confident of success.

Back to the technique: the trick is to barely mix the gnocchi. It is the process of overworking the dough that activates the gluten in the flour causes most gnocchi to become gummy. Treat your squash as if it is very fragile, then add just the barest amount of liquid necessary to get the dough to come together. This is where the butternut recipes I've tried have washed up - the squash, even when roasted, still had way too much moisture to ever transform into a good cloudlike dumpling. I also prefer to pan-fry my gnocchi, as I like the contrast of the slightly crispy exterior and creamy interior.

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Gnocchi
serves 4

2 medium butternut squashes
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup flour (if you have cake flour, use it. I don't, but the lower gluten flour is generally a good idea)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp white pepper
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp fresh sage, minced
4 oz. goat cheese
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2 baking trays with non-stick spray.

Peel the squashes, then halve and remove the seeds. Grate the squashes (the food processor is your friend on this one), and spread the squash evenly on the 2 trays. Pour a glug or 2 of olive oil across the tops of each tray to moisten the squash. Bake for 40-50 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the squash is evenly cooked and is starting to dry out. It shouldn't be browned, just cooked down to about 50% of its original volume.

left: squash before cooking
right: squash after cooking

Set the squash aside to cool - don't cover it so that moisture can continue to evaporate. I just left mine in the oven with the door ajar for another 30 minutes then cooled on the counter for a couple of hours, since I had the time.

Put the squash back in the food processor and pulse a couple of times until the squash is more finely chopped. Don't try to make it into a paste, it should feel very loose and dry at this stage. Transfer to a large bowl. It should look like the picture on the right.
Add the flour, salt and pepper, and gently mix into the squash to coat it. I do this by sliding my hands to the bottom of the bowl and then lifting up through the squash (or potato if its potato gnocchi we're talking about). It's a motion a little like playing with someone's hair - try to avoid actively stirring the mix or mashing the squash.

left: squash mixed with the dry ingredients
right: the mixed cheeses

Separately, crumble the goat cheese and mix with the parmesan using the same coating-type motion. In both cases, you're trying to coat the wetter ingredients in the drier ingredients. It takes a lot longer to describe than to do, really. Add the cheeses and the minced sage to the squash and then again gently toss to incorporate.

Finally, beat the egg and yolk together in a small dish, then add most of it to the squash. I like to hold a bit back and see if it's really needed. As I said above, you do need enough liquid to hold the mix together, but not a drop more. Mix gently with your hands until just combined - there will still be small pockets of squash and cheese here and there.
the final mix

Take a handful of the dough and roll gently on a floured board. Again, the mix will be a bit rustic looking, with occasional cracks (though it should definitely be wet enough that you aren't fighting to mash it together either). I generally shoot for a rope that is about 3/4" thick and then cut it into 1" segments. Repeat until you've used all the dough.

To cook, heat oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add a dozen or so gnocchi, so that they fit easily in the pan without crowding. turn so that all sides are browned then transfer to the oven (on low) to keep warm. Repeat until they're all cooked. Alternately, you can boil them, but once you've tried the sauteed version I bet that you also never look back!
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Friday, September 4, 2009

What blogging has taught me so far..

We've only been blogging for a very short time, yet one object lesson is already painfully clear: whenever you plan to blog something, it comes out awful. And when you don't plan to blog (as in you decide while you're eating dinner) the food comes out great. Just like all other aspects of life, right?

I planned to blog making a clafouti. those who know me know that I have a mortal terror of making cake (a justified terror, I tell you). I was convinced that for some reason this time ould be different and the cake would be delicious. And easy. I already had the blog intro composed in my mind as I put the cake lovingly into the oven. And then reality struck.

I think it looks pretty:

But pretty is as pretty does, as they say. Unless you think gummy and tasteless is beautiful, this cake ain't pretty. I even was going to blog my failure, but then the same weekend Wild Yeast published her failure to make a cookie and I slunk off into the sunset.

The next night, discouraged by my failure to even make a clafouti, not to mention the waste of perfectly beautiful peaches and blueberries, I turned to comfort food: gnocchi. Just a quick, quiet supper for me and the monkey. And these babies were GOOD! Some of the best gnocchi yet. IMHO.

Do I have a picture to show? Nope. Blogging it never crossed my mind 'til the first bite. And at that point, I just wanted to eat my dinner while it was still warm. But I owe you a gnocchi post.
Later, we made a really nice couscous tagine with homemade merguez and artichokes. I managed to capture a furtive picture of it before it was devoured. Nothing hugely special in the big picture, but a great dish that is inexpensive, fast, healthy, tasty and uses up random leftover vegetables.. all in all a win. But not a planned win.

The other lesson being that I think to really successfully blog, you need to either endure cold dinner after the photography is done (not going to happen), just blog everything whether it's tasty or not (not really where I want to be either), or re-create your success at some later time for the camera (perhaps, but I can see that getting out of hand too..).
About a year ago, my hairdresser told me that cataracts were starting to interfere with her vision. When she looks at something directly, it becomes occluded. But when she just glances out of the corner of her eye, then she sees fine. She now spends her days sneaking furtive glances at objects in order to see them. I think that's true for me in terms of cooking. Only if I pretend I am not looking do I find success.