Thursday, June 25, 2009

Indian Nachos at Home

For lunch, I had a big bowl of mango dal with butter beans and tortilla chips.

We've had a bunch of vacuum-packed Indian meals sitting in the corner of our kitchen for months; one of the Indian groceries in town had a huge sale, and we completely forgot they were there.

I've used all my cool HMart groceries, and we're going to New Orleans this weekend, so I didn't want to buy more. Moreover, we are moving in August, and I have a pantry full of things I don't want to have to move. Butter beans looked more appetizing than the corn (Jon has a canned corn addiction), black beans, "okra and tomatoes" (wtf? also a Jon thing), sardines, or fruit cocktail.

I've wanted to try the mango dal forever. It looked too substantial for a side dish, but not enough for a meal, so it's been sitting around for months. I decided to mix it with the beans and see what happened.

It looked repulsive. The little black dots in the mixture are coriander seeds, and the color was akin to Kraft Mac n' Cheese. Mango was the primary ingredient in the dal, but mango flavor was completely absent. It tasted instead like a very spicy hummus. I ended up dipping tortilla chips in the mixture, for a different yet tasty lunch. It would have been better with a little melted cheese on top, but we only have Kraft parmesan in the refrigerator. I can desecrate many things with sprinkle cheese, but Indian food is going a little far.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Guinea Pig Weekend

No, I did not eat cuy this weekend- Jon would never forgive me...

Our friend Charlie bought a smoker, and wanted to get the hang of using it by experimenting with different meats and smoking chips. We were very, very happy guinea pigs all weekend long.

Friday night, he smoked chicken breasts, bratwurst, and some sort of spicy crawfish sausage, all from Pete's Fine Meats. I've always noticed the shop, but never checked it out. My mistake. It all took about two hours to cook in the smoker with some relatively light chips (peach and pecanwood, I think), and turned out great. We supplemented it with beans, potato salad, and a wide variety of Mexican and American beers.

Charlie's Saturday project was baby back ribs. He rubbed them with a pretty typical spice blend- brown sugar, salt, chili powder, and some other stuff- then let them smoke for hours on end in mesquite and hickory. He finished them with some honey bbq sauce at the end. Best ribs EVER. They were nice and crispy-sweet, with incredibly tender meat inside. I could hardly stop myself from eating the bones.

That dinner was accompanied by the same sides, more beer, and some ice cream I made. It was loosely based on this recipe for brown sugar & sour cream ice cream. I really wanted to make creme fraiche ice cream, but creme fraiche was super-pricey, and I mistakenly thought I could make it with sour cream. Turns out, creme fraiche is buttermilk + cream, NOT buttermilk + sour cream. Hence, the weird ice cream. I added a pound's worth of pureed and strained strawberries to the recipe, along with a little corn syrup. I froze the blend in my ice cream maker, then left it in the freezer for almost three hours. Happily, it didn't over-freeze (the sour cream probably helped; more fat=softer ice cream). It was refreshing and delicious, but tasted like frozen yogurt because of the tangy sour cream.

My biggest mistake of the weekend was not bringing my camera- we had a lot of fun, and it was so very Texas. I'm sad I don't have photos of Charlie, in his "Keep Austin Weird" t-shirt and UT hat, tending the smoker. Maybe next time. I like being a food guinea pig...

Friday, June 19, 2009


Mmmm, skate.

Skate, as I learned this afternoon, is a stingray-like creature. I bought some yesterday at the H-Mart because it was a nice compromise between the boring fish (tilapia) and the weird/scary seafood (snails, monkfish heads, LIVE tilapia), and I remembered my Bouchon cookbook has a few skate recipes in it.

This afternoon, went to cook it, only to be overwhelmed by ammonia. Considerable internet research allowed me to conclude that it (*probably*) won't kill me, and that soaking it in lemon for an hour will help.

In the meantime, a little food blogging about things Gen ate in the recent past:

[EDIT: skate=fail. It cooked beautifully, and I was so excited to try it. I'd sauteed some oyster mushrooms in butter rather than follow Keller's recipe, and it made a nice sauce. I lifted the first forkful of fishy goodness, and was (again) overcome by the smell of ammonia I thought I'd eradicated. It was too strong for even me to try. Lunch was sauteed mushrooms, boo.]


This is the leftovers of a fabulous meal I made from scratch on Sunday. Homemade crabcakes on arugula with some goat cheese. I also made lemon-goat cheese biscuits (not pictured) as an adaptation of the biscuit recipe from my new cookbook, Beard on Bread. They froze really well.

Also in recent eating news:


Being the weirdo I am, I had this for breakfast a few days ago. Vegetarian dolmades from Phoenecia, with arugula and a poached egg. Like most normal people, I suck at poaching eggs. I was excited about the concept, dreaming of velvety poached eggs from brunches past, only to fail, again. I followed the procedure described in my circa-1960s Joy of Cooking, but got only watery egg drop soup. I tried again, with slightly better results, but had to fish slippery egg chunks out of the pot for my salad.

Finally, Mai's. I was really annoyed with their refusal to let me try anything interesting on the menu the last time I went, so it had been months since we'd visited. They did it again. I almost walked out when the waiter refused to let me order the salty limeade I wanted. We argued for several minutes, and he finally relented. I LOVED it- it tasted like lemon-lime Gatorade, or maybe Mountain Dew, but made with real juices. Sooo good after a hot day in the sun. After seeing me enjoy it, our waiter didn't even blink when I ordered the jellyfish salad.

It was the PERFECT summer food. I'd been craving jellyfish for weeks (I'm not kidding- it's actually delicious), and it was very different from the Chinese-style jellyfish salad I was used to, but it was awesome. It had jellyfish, tons of crunchy veggies, peanuts, spicy sauce, and fresh fried shrimp crackers. So now I actually like Mai's. But I wonder how much more business they would get if they would let their waiters let customers be adventurous without a fight.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Desperately Missing the Mediterranean

Tonight, I had sardines and baked eggplant for dinner, with a glass of Lebanese wine to drink.

I've been wanting seafood-heavy Mediterranean dishes for weeks now. I didn't discuss it here, but I had an unfortunate baby squid cooking incident a few weeks ago- basically, I was at the local Korean market, and they were handing out samples of the baby squid that was on special. The woman cooking made them taste amazing...even though I hate squid. It was awesome. So I bought two pounds of baby squid, and attempted to recreate it. Did not go well. Squid carnage:

I should have learned my lesson about non-traditional protein sources and ethnic markets, but no. Today, I found myself out at Phoenicia, the amazing market whose name I still cannot spell without help, again. I've been eying their fish for a long time. They sell inexpensive, underrated, but fabulous fish such as sardines, smelt, and the like. I bought a pack of large six sardines. They're perhaps six or seven inches long whole. I assumed they'd been gutted, but I got a fun surprise upon my return home...

I used to fish with my grandfather, but he always killed and gutted the fish for me. I dredged up whatever I remember from those experiences, plus the knowledge I've acquired from my habit of using cookbooks as leisure reading, and commenced the carnage. It was pretty gross, but logical. I always thought the fish blood and guts had to be removed quickly after death to prevent spoilage, so I hope I don't get ill.

I dusted their little carcasses with flour, and pan-fried them in a butter/olive oil blend. They turned out fine, but the little bones were distracting, and the cooking method added to their fattiness.

To complete the Mediterranean experience, I roasted some eggplant slices with Parmesan cheese. I was so overwhelmed with foodie joy at the visit to Phoenicia that I failed to actually plan for the eggplant, so my dish was rather sad- just cheese and eggplant. And the cheese? Let's just say that my cooking adventures have taught me Kraft sprinkle cheese is far more versatile than one would think.

The wine was also pretty good. It is labeled "Petit Noir", from Cave Kouroum in Lebanon, about $7/bottle.I'm not sure if "Petit Noir" is Lebanese for "Pinot Noir"? Google isn't helping, but it tastes heavier than a Pinot to me. It's also darker in color. Not bad, just a very dry, fruity red.