Posts Tagged ‘pantry


on cooking in California: part 6

Most of my out-of-the-house work is loaded into the afternoons and evenings. Monday night, J-P and I were at the Bike Kitchen from 6:30 til 9:30, so we ended up having a pizza delivered there. We were there late Tuesday night, too, but we didn’t want two dinners out in a row.

So, at 9:20 Tuesday morning, I found myself simultaneously mincing garlic and monitoring the progress of two hard-cooked eggs and a third seasoning of the cast iron skillet. The garlic and eggs were (ostensibly) for that night’s late dinner, the skillet just because.

For the dinner, I followed Elaine Louie’s recipe for Bihari Green Beans Masala. To up the protein, I decided to cook it Burmese style–or at least Burma Superstar style–by adding hard-cooked eggs.

I decided to form the eggs into cute shapes using Japanese egg molds. I have two: one succeeded, one failed. The failed egg got unmolded and unceremoniously chopped and stirred into the sauce. The other became garnish.

I had a little of the dish for lunch yesterday, but I wasn’t thoroughly pleased with the taste. So I added some slivers of ginger before I put it in the fridge, hoping that they would add their flavor over the course of the day and while we reheated the food.

The ginger actually ended up having more time than that to do its work, because we were weak creatures of habit last night and went to the St. Francis instead of going home to the food I’d made. (It’s all right, I was craving French fries.) By tonight, the ginger had worked some magic. I’d recommend the recipe, as long as you simmer ginger in the sauce in the first place.

All of this brings me to one more change that living in California has made to our household cuisine: more Asian flavors. A red coconut curry sauce was already part of my repertoire before we moved here. (Thai restaurants were my chile-using refuge in a Boston barren of good Mexican.) Here, we’ve experimented with Mark Bittman’s Asian-fusion sauces, which have generally disappointed us with their strong taste of Worcestershire.

His fried garlic and ginger sprinkles are genius, though, and my dal makhani turned out all right. But the real winner so far has been our Bike Kitchen friend Al’s 1-2-3 pork: pork simmered in 1 part rice wine, 2 parts vinegar, 3 parts (or less) sugar, 4 parts soy sauce, and 16 parts water. I’ve also added a crushed garlic clove and a crushed half-inch of ginger to Al’s 1-2-3 sauce, but it’s perfectly tasty as is.

I think the main reason Asian and Asian-inspired recipes are so hit or miss for us is that neither of us has enough background with any particular Asian cuisine to judge a recipe before we’ve tried it. We just haven’t built up a sense of which ingredients produce which flavors, or how they work in combination. Give us chiles, onions, tomatoes, and we’re golden. But we’ve only just added sesame oil and mirin to our pantry.


mis migas: autenticas o no?

Late night –> slow morning –> lazy breakfast.

Are these migas? All the elements are there: stale tortilla chips (the eponymous migas, or crumbs), eggs, cheese, salsa picante. Does it matter that the salsa is the liquid variety (Tapatio, specifically), rather than pico-like? How much does that change the identity of the dish? If I’d had a jar of Mrs. Renfro’s or Green Mountain Gringo in the fridge and had used that instead, would my breakfast have been more authentic? What if I had ginned up my own salsa? It’s what I would have done if there’d been onions and canned tomatoes in the pantry. (I really need to get to the grocery store.) And would my salsa have been even more authentic if I’d had fresh tomatoes instead of canned?

In The Farmstead Egg Cookbook, Boston suburbanite Terry Golson presents her recipe for huevos rancheros with an apology: “I don’t claim that these are totally authentic huevos rancheros, but they are delicious and very easy to make.” She fries an egg, puts it on top of a fried corn tortilla, and tops that with salsa from a jar and some queso fresco (more authentic than my cheddar). Clearly it’s the ease of the dish that worries her, but I also remember reading about someone of a similar background to Golson’s seeing a Mexican woman cooking a sauce from scratch for a breakfast dish and being slightly appalled at the effort required. (It’s not that hard, really, if you have the ingredients on hand.) It seemed primitive and patriarchal, and not something that a busy, modern woman could take home to the US.

How should we judge the authenticity of Mexican or Tex-Mex egg breakfasts, parvenus to the public faces of both cuisines? In Que vivan los tamales, Jeffrey Pilcher reports Marilyn Tausend’s finding that “The habit of eating eggs for breakfast, when transferred [through mid-century tourism] from the United States to Mexico, stimulated creative experimentation rather than slavish imitation. In searching for national counterparts to Eggs Benedict, Mexican chefs served huevos rancheros (ranch-style eggs) fried with tomato-and-chile sauce, huevos albañiles (bricklayers’ eggs) scrambled with a similar sauce, and huevos motuleños (from Motul, Yucatán) fried with beans, ham, and peas. Soon, no hotel with pretensions to luxury could neglect its own ‘traditional’ egg dish on the breakfast menu.”

The taint of Americanism seems to be one of the factors that earns Tex-Mex scorn from Diana Kennedy and her followers. Does the fact that these egg dishes are a product of U.S. tourism make them any less authentically Mexican? They did originate in Mexico, after all. You can’t get much more “authentic” or “interior” than the Yucatán. Does the fact that they are innovations, rather than traditional dishes, make them less authentic?

Whatever the answers, my lazy migas were very tasty.


diner chili

Lest you think my Texas Red relies too much on canned and otherwise preserved foods, let me share my method for vegetarian diner chili. (I did say vegetarian chilis were a whole nother thing, didn’t I?)

You’ll need:
cooking fat
1 sweet yellow onion; chopped medium
4 cloves garlic; minced
1 can (abt 15 ounces) each of red, black, and pinto beans; drained
1 similarly sized can diced tomatoes with green chiles; undrained
some spicy tomato/vegetable juice
several tablespoons chili powder
a teaspoon or so ground comino
pickled jalapeños, chopped medium

Chop the onion medium and soften in hot fat. Add the minced garlic for a minute or two before you add the beans, tomatoes, and juice. Add the spices, jalapeños, and salt to taste. Let simmer about half an hour. Serve with the usual accoutrement: grated cheese, chopped scallions, saltines.


My Texas Red Algorithm

There are two reasons I don’t make chili very often. One is that it takes a honking lot of beef, the other is that I always remember it as being harder than it is. There’s no solving the former problem (vegetarian chilis are a whole nother thing), but recording my method can solve the latter, and keep it from feeding back into the infrequency of my chili-making. So.

Thaw 1-1.5 pounds ground beef. Assess its fattiness. Heat an appropriate amount of fat in a stockpot or Dutch oven. (This weekend I used about a tablespoon duck fat, in the stock pot, as the Dutch oven needed reseasoning.)

Soften two medium-sized sweet yellow onions, chopped medium, in the fat. Add one large ancho/pasilla (long, wide, green, moderate heat) pepper, chopped medium. Add six-ish cloves of garlic, minced, and the ground beef. When the beef starts to look cooked, add 3-4 tablespoons of San Antonio chile powder from Central Market. When you’re just about ready to add tomatoes, first add two teaspoons ground comino and one teaspoon dried oregano. Then add two 15-ounce-ish cans of diced tomatoes, juice and all. It’s ok if they have (appropriate) flavorings–this weekend, I used one can with green chiles (Muir Glen brand, aka Hippie Rotel) and one with roasted garlic.

Once the tomatoes have been added, throw in a couple cloves more minced garlic. Add about half the chiles from a 12-ounce can of chipotles in adobo, and most of the adobo. Keep adding adobo and chile powder until the stew is as spicy as you like and the right color–a deep, serious red. Taste for salt–the adobo has a lot, so you won’t need much. And add just a teaspoon or so of cocoa powder, which mellows things and marries the flavors. I’m not kidding.

Let this simmer down. Meanwhile, someone has been making cornbread according to J-P’s algorithm, and someone else has been grating a mound of cheddar, colby, or jack cheese. Serve the three together, et voilà–dinner.


tiffins and hummus

My household has never found much use for ziploc bags, so when I have to carry lunch with me, it often looks like this:

Which reminds me of the thousands of tiffins delivered daily by the dabbawallas of Mumbai. The dabbawallas gather up homemade lunches in the mornings and deliver them, still hot, to office workers by lunchtime. The system is complex, with 175,000 tiffins changing hands through multiple depots each day, yet delightfully low-tech. Most deliveries are made by bicycle, and there are no computers, or even written words, involved. The tiffins are routed using symbols drawn on their lids to indicate their destinations. The system is also very effective: most online sources say that only one in 16 million deliveries goes astray. Very important in a society where food taboos matter–and proliferate.

If you don’t live in India but would like a tiffin that is more elegant, or more permanent, than mine, you can get one from To-Go Ware. I didn’t know this until I picked up a stainless steel container called a “sidekick” to put John-Paul’s shaving soap in:

But I figure the plastic (and bioplastic) containers are already cluttering up my kitchen cabinets, and I don’t see them going away any time soon, so I may as well use what I’ve got. Mine don’t snap together, but putting the stack inside a bag works just as well.

And what, you may wonder, did I use the contents of my tiffin for? You’ll note that those vegetables and those pickled jalapeños look ripe to accompany hummus, but there’s no hummus in the photo. That morning I tried to make hummus using chickpea flour. My main mistake seems to have been putting the garlic, tahini, and lemon juice through the food processor before I added the chickpea flour. The food processor created an emulsion that was too thick to absorb much flour. I ended up with a chalky brick that still tasted mostly of tahini. I still have hope for a gentler method–next time I’ll mince the garlic by hand and stir everything together with a spoon instead. For that particular lunch, though, I ended up buying hummus from Bi Rite, along with some tortilla chips, which are my favorite tool for scooping it up.

The jalapeños add a little spice. Sometimes we’ll spoon a bit of Sriracha chili-garlic paste on top instead, but we were out of it that morning. (The hot sauce in the picture is from a nearby taquería.)


on cooking in california: part 3

The second wave of things we made an effort to stock included chickpea flour, lentils, and split peas. We use the chickpea flour in a Spanish dish we got straight from Mark Bittman: eggless chickpea pancakes with scallions and a touch of seafood. He uses fresh shrimp, while we use our pantry staple, canned clams. He calls them “tor-til-ee-tas,” and we imitate him just because we know better. Chickpea flour can also be used to dust foods for frying, as a binder in things like meatballs, or in savory muffins. We’ve also thought we could use it in making hummus or maybe falafel, but we’re not sure how the flour’s fine texture will affect those dishes.

The lentils and split peas are a substitute for the dried beans we never manage to find the time to cook. Since we started making an effort to use the easier-cooking pulses as the protein in more of our meals, I have learned to make split pea soup (thanks, Cooks Illustrated), split peas with smoked paprika and olive oil, a French lentil ragout with bacon and vermouth, butter- and cream-enriched dal makhani, a coriander- and onion-flavored Egyptian dish called rishta (Joy of Cooking), and a sandwich of lentils and homemade barbeque sauce, which we refer to as Hippie Joes.

My sister gave me the technique for the barbeque sauce, which she cobbled together from online recipes: mix tomato paste, bourbon, brown sugar, molasses, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and lime juice together until the taste and color suit you. To make Hippie Joes, simmer some cooked lentils in the sauce, then sandwich into toasted buns.


the evolution of a dish

One of my favorite dishes to make when the crisper is low comes from a woman who says that she used to serve it in a bistro she worked at in France. She titles it Nid de lentilles a l’echalotte et son petit aux lardons, or Nest of shalotty lentils with their baby and bits of bacon. In the original recipe, lentils, cooked through and then simmered with shallots cooked in bacon fat, dry vermouth, thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and the chopped bacon, form the nest. The nest’s baby is a cold, soft-poached egg, and the whole is garnished with cross-shaped bits of fresh tomato. Several transformations have beset this recipe on its way to becoming a staple in my kitchen.

The first thing to go was the idea of a cold, soft-cooked egg. I love a runny yolk as much as anyone, but I’m with the recipe author’s North American husband—make that thing hot, please. Even so, runny yolks often reject my love, responding to my attentions by upsetting my stomach. So my household usually dispenses with the egg altogether. With regret.

The tomatoes have suffered another transformation. I wouldn’t use anything but fresh, in-season tomatoes for that kind of garnish. And even when tomatoes are in season, I don’t think of them for this dish. They’re not the star here, and at the height of tomato season, it always never seems like good tomatoes should settle for a supporting role. And so we rely on canned or frozen tomatoes—which don’t come in cross-shaped segments. In fact, there’s no way to make any garnish but an ugly one out of preserved tomatoes. My solution is to add canned tomatoes to the vermouth while the lentils simmer. It makes for a more tomato-y dish—in fact, it often makes for a garlickier dish, or one with more green chiles, depending on what kind of canned tomatoes we have on hand. And we always have them on hand—with my Tex-Mex background and J-P’s childhood in New Jersey, our kitchen relies on canned tomatoes.

And, of course, it’s rare that we have shallots in the pantry—but onions are always there, so they usually fill the main allium role in this dish. Add a little long-grain white rice to bulk things up, especially with the egg out of the picture, et voilà. Nid de lentilles et oignons avec des tomates et lardons au riz.

Tex-Mix's Photostream