Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Masala with Chickpeas and Potatoes

This tikka masala was served over long grain brown rice.  While masalas have their fair share of ingredients, they're really easy to make and super flavorful alternatives to, say, pasta and tomato sauce.  Certainly a whole lot healthier for you!


Tbsp veg oil
1 sm onion, finely diced
1/2 (or more) fresh red chili, seeded, minced
clove of garlic, minced
knob of ginger, minced
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground fenugreek
1/2 tsp fround coriander
1 tsp curry powder or garam masala powder
1 sm bay leaf
pinch salt, pepper
pinch sugar (brown sugar works well here)
2 tbsp fresh cilantro leaves, finely chopped (plus more for garnishing)
2-3 tbsp tomato paste, whisked into 1/2 cup water
1/2c heavy cream
3 or 4 tbsp plain yogurt
squeeze of lemon

1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
4 or 5 fingerling potatoes, sliced into nickels
anything else that you feel like using up (like shrimp, in my case!)

Saute onion in veg oil over med heat until softened.  Add the chili, garlic and ginger, and cook until aromas are wafting out of the pan.  Dump in the 5 spices and the bay leaf, stir until onion is evenly coated.  Cook for another 3-4 minutes over med-low heat (caremlized onion in a dish like this is always a good thing...).

Blend in the tomato water (puree, basically) and simmer for 2 or 3 minutes. Blend in the cream and simmer for another couple of minutes.  Add the 2 tbsp chopped cilantro, s & p to taste, checking at the same time for level of chili heat.  Use sugar as necessary for counterbalancing that heat.

Add potatoes and chickpeas and simmer for ~10-15 minutes until the potatoes are cooked through.  If you've simmered too high, or just simply want more sauce, go ahead and add water as necessary.  It won't bother your outcome at all.

Remove the bay leaf and swirl in the yogurt, a tablespoon at a time, checking for flavor balance.  Might want to add a bit of that lemon juice here.  Serve over rice, and garnish with remaining cilantro.  I served ours with pan-grilled Naan bread dripping with melted butter!  YUM.

2 x 2 = 4 (Or, Two Friends, Two Pizzas, Four Wines!)

This is what happens when certain friends come over on a Tuesday night:

Toppings included fresh red bell peppers charcoaled over the cooktop flame, seeded and chopped; 6 or 7 kinds of olives, freshly cracked and chopped; freshly grated mozzarella and parmesan cheeses, and small gobs of chevre (derishuss!); sundried tomatoes; sweet, buttery roasted garlic cloves; anchovies, and parsley.

The olives and peppers were checkerboarded on one dough, while the garlic, anchovy and sundried tomatoes were layered with goat cheese on the other.  Both pizzas were grilled right on my cooktop griddle, drizzled with olive oil and salted with Hawaiian black lava salt.  YUM.

This is also what happens when certain friends come over on a Tuesday night:

The 2007 Karmere Barbera (far right) stole my heart.  Luscious, soft fruit-forward (plum) on the tongue, and completely chewy (caramel) in the mouth.  We quaffed it I'm afraid, due to the goat cheese having a whopping brie-like flavor and consistency.  The 2007 Karmere Primabera (2nd from right) was also chewy and round, but more spicy (cinnamon, I think) than the Barbera.  Dillian's 2008 Vino Nostro (3rd from right) was simply dee-lish-uss.  Delicious!  This wine is a blend of zin, syrah and barbera grapes.  Plum on the nose, and more plum, and strawberry, on the tongue.  The 2006 Scott Harvey Syrah was nicely peppery and ripe with blueberry, and actually started off our night.  What a great night!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Cauliflower Gratin and Immersion Blenders

When I came across this gorgeous, milky white, organic cauli the other day, I just knew I had to turn it into something to die for.  I mean, really, how often does cauliflower take center stage?  I remembered seeing a gratin recipe in Thomas Keller's book, Bouchon, not too long ago, so cauliflower gratin ("gratin de chou-fleur!") it was!

The best part of the recipe (IMHO) is the fact that nearly every speck of the cauli is used--even those teeny, tiny crumbs left on the cutting board after a knife has been taken to it.  Another best part is that this is a super easy meal to prepare if you've got the right tools: a food processor, 1 pot, an immersion blender, and individual gratin dishes.  (For those last two, a conventional blender and one 8"  shallow casserole dish will work, too ;~)

Read on to see the recipe for this creamy, sophisticated yet simple dish.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dried Bean Score!

Our local winter farmers' market, nearing its end, included a highly rare item this past weekend: locally grown and dried "new crop" beans!

Lookee my treasure:

These beautiful seeds were grown by farmer Charley Baer of Baer's Best Beans, a chemist by day who recently purchased Lover's Brook Farm in Berwick/So Berwick, ME.  Lover's Brook is a working farm under conservation easement.  Situated on nearly 90 acres, Lover's Brook Farm and Charley Baer promise to be a really good thing in terms of fresh, dried beans for our region.  Charley is no stranger to bean crops, either.  He's been growing beans (one of the last farmers to grow heirloom varieties in this region!) for more than 25 years.  Sooooooo I am all over these babies for some upcoming chili and burrito concoctions, not to mention various rice-combo experiments.  Heck, I'm even contemplating creating some cool summer salad recipes at this point!  Need I mention that a bag or two or three was purchased with a mother and friend in mind?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Revered chef, Jamie Oliver

I think Jamie Oliver's cookbook, Naked Chef, was my first "real" cookbook.  I also love his newest book, Jamie at Home.  This is one guy who gets what growing, farming, hunting, cooking and eating is all about (IMHO).  I love his MO.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

The cabbages around here are looking huge and firm and healthy these days, so what better way to use the leaves than rolled up with a hearty filling! I've had a package of New Roots Farm's heritage breed pork sausage in the freezer since...January, I think...not to mention a pound of Wee Bit Farm's grass-fed ground beef, and it also just so happens that the wild rice and shiitake mushrooms I cooked up the night before never made it to their dish, so, cabbage rolls or bust!

For a meatless version, which is simply a delicious dish in and of itself, go with lots of fresh, crunchy, colorful veggies such as finely chopped celery; grated carrot; corn kernels; peas; blanched, diced green beans (or even canned beans, such as black, pinto or kidney); chopped bell peppers (any color!); summer squash or zucchini (particularly yummy when in season!); chopped water chestnuts (not exactly local); or even non-crunchies such as chopped spinach, swiss chard and bok choy.

Experimenting with rice is fun, too.  You can easily substitute short-grain brown and long-grain white rices for the wild.  You can also use a combination of all types!  Whatever moves you!

For a listing of other essential ingredients, keep reading...

Friday, March 12, 2010

BIG wines in Amador, CA

Twelve of us--six New Englanders and six Arizonans--spent four days visiting small, family-owned vineyards in Amador County, CA, last week. Many of the wineries employ sustainable operations, including solar power, wind power and biodynamic farming. As important, they produce fantastic wines for very reasonable prices! Lots of new, big, chewy reds and luscious whites were tried ('quaffed' is more like it), and I've listed a few below. All I can say is, LOOK FOR 'EM!

This yummy, salty and savory plate contains many goodies that I turned our friends onto while out there: fresh asparagus and fennel that I tossed in local olive oil and s&p and grilled for serving; three varieties of olives that were super buttery and perfectly brined; organic salami; various crackers and breadsticks from local CA bakers; and, last but not least, chunks of delectable, creamy and firm goat cheese called 'Roussette' made by a local cheesemaker who dined with us (along with her winemaker husband!).

Olives included Green Cerignola Olives (in front, the largest of the three shown), Nicoise Coquillos (in back, the small deep purple ones) , and to-die-for Castelvetranos--a meaty, buttery, bright green olive (nope, no food coloring - just a perfect brining solution) that is sure to convince any olive-hater otherwise! All from Italy, I must confess.

Where did I find all these ingredients while driving from San Francisco up over to our final destination in Amador County? Why, at the famed, independently-owned Sacramento Natural Foods Co-Op of course! :) While perusing Google's map of the area (for determining a good route for us New Englanders), I came across their website. Talk about a perfect location off the highway--it took us all of 5 minutes out of our way, and was well worth the effort. We loaded up on the groceries for the "big feast" (14 people), which, if you recall, was detailed in my previous blog titled 'My Favorite Coffee Mug'! And guess what? The were only a couple of deviations from my original menu, one of which was the squid.  It ended up fried calamari the night before the feast. I obtained glisteningly fresh, sustainably-fished Pacific squid at the co-op, cleaned them, and lightly coated them in a mix of flour, corn meal, garlic powder, chili powder and s&p before frying in a bit of olive oil (alas, these were the available pantry items for me to choose from). We squeezed fresh lemon over them and loved every bite!

As for the wines, they were delish. Lots of Barberas and Zinfandels and Petite Syrahs well worth looking for. Here are a few names and harvests to seek out:

Monday, March 1, 2010

Succulent Fresh Maine Shrimp!

Right now in the Maine and New Hampshire Seacoast region we are enjoying these scrumptious little shrimpies, brought to us straight from the local fishermen and women who catch them. You can find them for sale at local fishmongers' counters, on the curb in various seaside towns, at the farmers' markets still taking place, and even through CSFs ("Community Supported Fisheries" - a complement to CSAs, or Community Supported Agriculture).

These loves don't need but 30 seconds to cook, honest and truly, so choose your recipe(s) wisely. I add them, and a bit of chopped parsley, at the very last moment to a pan of sizzling-hot scampied butter (finely chopped garlic, a little white wine and lemon juice already sauteed into the butter), toss them for one or two flicks of the pan, and then pour then over a bowl of hot, tender fettucini ribbons.

A bit more chopped parsley to finish, and maybe a wedge of lemon, and you've got a delicious, hot dinner in the amount of time it takes to boil pasta! Don't overcook! If they feel mushy in your mouth, you've overcooked them. They should have a texture that pops when you bite down on 'em.

Why choose Maine shrimp over the commonly seen tiger shrimp in our supermarkets? There are lots of reasons, and an article in the Concord Monitor states them succinctly.
For general info on what CSAs and CSFs are all about, check out Local Harvest's site here. For info on CSFs and CSAs in the ME / NH areas, Seacoast Eat Local has a listing here. Elsewhere, ask your local fishmonger or farmers' market organization!