Monday, April 26, 2010

Sunday Cookbook Adventures: Quick and Easy Curried Calamari

Because I had the pleasure of hosting some extended family for dinner on Saturday and I had dinner plans with friends on Sunday, I decided I'd better make my Cookbook Adventure something quick and easy this week... which was a good reminder of how good quick and easy can be. I broke out a cookbook that I've had since it first came out 7 years ago, but haven't adequately experimented with (despite the presence of about 30 post-its stuck on the pages of recipes I want to try): Madhur Jaffrey's Curries to Kebabs.
The dish I chose this time around was a Kerala Squid Curry. The curry starts by toasting some coriander seed, black peppercorns, and fenugreek seed in a skillet
The spices are ground then set aside while the next step begins. This involves popping some brown mustard seeds in oil, then adding sliced onion, sliced garlic, and (once those start to color) grated ginger.
The next batch of ingredients into the pot includes those ground toasted spices from above along with cayenne, paprika, sea salt, tamarind paste, and fresh curry leaves.
All of the above goes into a pot with some water and is brought to a simmer. The dish can be made to this point in advance, then re-warmed just before serving to add the remaining ingredients, which would be nice if you wanted to prepare it for guests.
I went off-recipe (for the first of two times) on the next step by using large calamari rather than small ones. H-Mart didn't have cleaned small calamari, and cleaning two pounds of squid would go against the "quick and easy" theme I was working with. I actually strongly prefer the larger calamari, since they're easier to cook perfectly tender, so I would probably have done this regardless of whether or not the smaller calamari was available.
The calamari was supposed to be cut into 1/4-inch rings, so I halved the bodies lengthwise and cut into strips crosswise.
The second place I was forced to go off-recipe was the chilies. H-Mart is actually fairly disappointing in the produce department, and they didn't have curry leaves or bird's-eye chilies. Russo's came through for me on the curry leaves, but I was left with these random spicy green chilies instead.
The recipe made no mention of doing anything to the chilies other than adding them to the pot, but I made a long slit down each of the above chilies to let the spicy goodness ooze into the sauce more easily. These go into the pot with the coconut milk...
... and then the calamari is added.
In just a couple minutes, the calamari is perfectly cooked and ready to serve.
I plated this up with a big scoop of rice, and called it "lunch."
This was absolutely fantastic. The complexity of flavor the spices brought was awesome. I would have liked things a little spicier, but finding somebody who carries a better selection of chilies (it's times like this that I miss So-Cal) should help with that. I used to occasionally make a version of Curried Calamari that I saw on an Ainsley Harriott cooking show (I know... don't laugh at me...) in college, but this really kicked that curry's ass, and didn't take much longer to make. This will definitely be my new go-to Curried Calamari. I'm going to have to crack this book open more often. A lot of the dishes that appeal to me are simple to make like this. As I alluded to before, when you're cooking Thomas Keller recipes, you sometimes forget that not all good food takes a full day of prep to make. Some of the best stuff comes together in under an hour, and the flavor doesn't suffer at all for that convenience...

Everyday Yumminess: Lime Yogurt Cake with Fresh Blackberry Sauce

Another weekend, another recipe from Smitten Kitchen. This time it's a Lime Yogurt Cake with Fresh Blackberry Sauce. I was having some extended family over for dinner on Saturday, and that seemed like the type of situation that called for me to bake a cake. Because I don't care for baking, I only do so when either it's a very special occasion or the recipe is as easy as humanly possible.
The wet ingredients include yogurt, lime juice, lime zest, and sugar (which is always a wet ingredient even though it's dry)...
... which are whisked together in a bowl, into which you sift the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
Stir until just combined, then dump into a greased spring-form pan and throw it in the oven for about 35 minutes,
... and you have cake. Really yummy lime-flavored cake.
While the baking is going on, you can prepare the super-simple sauce. I was worried that fresh blackberries would be prohibitively expensive, but the grocery shopping gods put them on sale for me, so it was on...
The berries are puréed with a little water, a little sugar, and a little lime juice, then pushed through a fine sieve.
This leaves you with a smooth, surprisingly delicious blackberry sauce. Following the advice at Smitten Kitchen, I've been using some of the extra on the homemade yogurt that I have for breakfast in the mornings, and it takes breakfast to a whole new level.Time to plate up. You can do this either showing great restraint with your sauce:
Or you can throw elegance to the wind and give yourself a proper serving of the awesome blackberry goodness.
I originally went with small amounts of sauce because I was worried that it would overpower the delicate cake, but it actually complements it perfectly. The cake is exactly my kind of dessert. Aside from being insanely easy to make, it's also not too sweet (which is important to me). I love citrus, too, and can see doing lemon or orange (maybe even grapefruit?) versions of this cake with various different berry sauces. And thus, Smitten Kitchen has led me to deliciousness yet again.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Sunday Cookbook Adventures: Pozole Rojo

I knew as I was digging through 20 liters of pork jelly that I would do things differently next time... But I'll get to that later. My main memory of posole is from several years back in Santa Barbara. Steph told me about this church parking lot that was filled with all kinds of Mexican food stalls during Fiesta. Each stall has a different specialized food item, so you stand in one line to grab tamales, another for tortas, another for tacos... and, of course, another for posole. I had never actually tried posole before - I'm not sure I'd even heard of it - but as Steph and I saw bowl after bowl of brothy goodness wander past us as we waited in the tamale line, we knew the posole line was the next line we'd be standing in. I fell in love a little that day, but it wasn't until last Thanksgiving that I even thought about making posole at home, when I decided to turn my homemade turkey stock and leftover meat into a (kick-ass) Turkey Posole. The time had come, I decided this weekend, to step it up a notch and make Rick Bayless's Pozole Rojo from his very awesome book, Mexico: One Plate at a Time.
The good people at Blood Farm were very helpful in getting my pile o' pig parts together, including slicing my trotters in half lengthwise and finding pork shanks for me, which they sliced into 1 1/2" portions. (The pork shoulder hunks came from H-Mart, for reasons discussed last week...)
I find this pile of meat both impressive and amusing... The pile is thrown into a big pot with enough water to cover and a chopped onion,
and simmered until the meat is very tender. The recipe recommends allowing the meat to cool in the broth before proceeding, so I threw this all in the fridge overnight to be dealt with in the morning.
After scraping that layer of fat off of my new vat of pork jelly, it was time to fish out pieces of meat, peel off gelatinous layers of skin and fat to discard, and pull the cooked meat off of the bones...
That back bowl above is the discarded skin, fat, and bone, while the front bowl is the meat. Below is the rest:
This was not super-pleasant, and with each splattering of pork jelly onto the wall, slingshotted there by a piece of skin suddenly pulling loose from the meat, I pondered other options. I'm pretty sure that my next posole will feature pork stock made from pork neck bones and meat from an oven-braised pork shoulder. I like adding more flavor to the meat that way, and would appreciate being able to just discard everything but the liquid from the stock-making process rather than sifting through a vat of pork jelly. Glad to have tried it as written, though, because you never know... After the above process, I heated the pork jelly until it was a liquid again, then strained to remove onions and impurities.
Suddenly I had a pretty good-looking pork stock on my hands and was feeling a little better about things.
We needed two quarts for the recipe, but for assorted reasons (I had more meat and bones than needed and thus used more water to cover these) I ended up with five quarts. I put two in the freezer and used the other extra quart to substitute for one of the quarts of water in the hominy-cooking below.
Speaking of hominy, I ordered dried hominy from Rancho Gordo this time, which is a fantastic place to get heirloom beans and high-quality hominy.
I had been forced to resort to canned hominy for my impromptu Turkey Posole at Thanksgiving, and this was a huge upgrade.
The hominy is added to a stock pot with a head of peeled, halved garlic cloves and a few quarts of water (plus pork stock, in my case).
This simmers for 4 to 5 hours, until the hominy is quite tender. I went off-recipe again here to remove the garlic pieces, since I hate biting into such a large piece of something so strongly flavored during a meal...
While all of this is going on, the chilies (where the rojo in Pozole Rojo comes from) are prepared. The recipe calls for dried Ancho chilies, which are rehydrated in warm water.
The chilies and their soaking liquid are then puréed until smooth, before being strained through a reasonably fine sieve to remove any bits of tough skin. (Between the stock, the horchata, and this, my strainers were getting a workout on Sunday...)
Finally, it was time for all the components to come together. The chili mixture is added to the pot with the hominy, as is the pork stock... er, jelly...
This simmers for an hour, then the pork meat is added back in and you have yourself a big vat of tasty, tasty Pozole Rojo. While it's simmering, you can prep the garnishes. I finally upgraded my $6 mandolin to one with an adjustable blade height. This was brilliant, as it gave me paper-thin radish slices in about 5 seconds.
The other garnishes are Mexican oregano, sliced cabbage (Bayless recommends Napa cabbage... though, having tried it, I think I prefer "regular" cabbage in my posole...), and lime wedges.
Let's take a moment to admire the lovely posole, shall we?
This was pretty fantastic. Like I said, I think I'll approach the stock and meat differently next time, but I have no complaints about the resulting flavors of this method. (And I can totally see why a traditional, rustic dish wouldn't have you making stock from meat that you throw away...) Rick Bayless has yet to let me down, and I can't wait for my next foray into his collection of recipes. Good stuff. Very good stuff, indeed.

Everyday Yumminess: My Friend's Mom's Horchata

I first had Horchata in Portland last year when out to lunch with my friend, J. I assumed it would be more effort than it was worth to make, but decided that I wanted to give it a try this weekend, anyway. Rick Bayless has a recipe for Horchata in my favorite book of his, and there were several online, but I figured the safest bet would be to make J's mom's Horchata. For those who haven't experienced the yumminess before, Horchata is sort of a sweetened, cinnamon-flavored rice milk. This batch turned out exactly how I wanted my Horchata to taste, so I can't imagine trying any chefs' recipes for it in the future. Yay, moms! Here's how you make it: Take a cup of long-grain rice and soak overnight to soften.
Drain the rice and add to a blender with 3 cups of water and two Mexican cinnamon sticks, then blend until it looks like a liquid with fine sand floating in it. Now it's time for the first straining.
You can proceed straight the the second straining at this point, or do like I did and try to forgo it by adding the half-gallon of milk, can of condensed milk, and sugar to taste (1/2 to 1 cup, depending on your preference. I went with just over 1/2 cup for this batch...). After the sugar had mostly dissolved, I admitted to myself that the texture was too gritty, and moved on to the second straining phase, this time using coffee filters to get out the finer particles.
It's important to do the first straining before you move on the the coffee filters, since the larger particulates are going to give you a situation where you leave for 40 minutes and come back to find a solitary tablespoon of liquid has passed through the filters... not that I know this from experience or anything... Once everything is all strained and delicious, just toss it in the fridge until you're ready to enjoy. Mmmm... Horchata...