Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Palak Pa"near"


Okay, so the pun is admittedly a bit of a stretch (and I’m sure you Indian food fans out there are groaning and rolling your eyes at this chef/writer) but everyone was stretching across the dinner table to snag some more of this vegan spin on the classic Indian dish.

Palak paneer is a staple on every Indian restaurant menu, consisting primarily of spinach, spices, and paneer. Paneer is a type of Indian cheese made from curds and whey and isn’t exactly easy to come by on a college campus, let alone the run-off of a colonial town. A favorite cookbook of mine, The Accidental Vegan by Devra Gartenstein, happened to have a sensible, and animal-product-free, substitute. Can you guess it? You probably can – tofu.

Tofu is a magical little protein, and you can expect it to get a featurette of its own on this blog in the not-too-distant future. As much as I would like to go into an essay on the magic and mystery of soybean curd, that is a tale for another time. So for now, take my word that this recipe is certainly not something anyone should be afraid of – omnivores and herbivores alike.
Now on to the good part: what do I need and how do I make it? Keeping with my true college-student-who-can’t-afford-nice-things-nor-has-the-time-for-multiple-course-meals style, all of the ingredients in this dish are affordable and easy to come by and the meal itself is basically prepared using just one sturdy skillet.

Palak Pa“near”

You will need:

1 cup brown basmati rice (or any rice, really)
2 cups water or vegetable stock
(You could easily substitute 5-minute or instant rice if you’re in a hurry or just lazy)

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
1 onion
1 tablespoon grated ginger (ginger powder will suffice in a pinch)
2 ½ tablespoons curry powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 10-ounce package frozen spinach (try to let it thaw for a while first)
8 ounces firm or extra-firm tofu, cut into bite-size cubes
1 tomato
cayenne pepper to taste

1. Bring a saucepan with the 2 cups of water to a boil; add the rice. Turn the heat down to low and simmer, covered for 40-45 minutes. Set a timer so you can keep track of it. The rice will be done when it is fluffy and all the water has been absorbed. If using instant rice, prepare as directed when you add the tofu and spinach later – that way everything will be done at the same time.
2. While the rice cooks you can take the opportunity to cut your onion and tomato. With everything chopped and ready (and about 15-20 minutes left on the rice) place a skillet on medium-low heat and add the oil – let it heat up a couple minutes until shimmery.
3. Add the onion, ginger, curry powder and salt and sauté until the onion is tender, about five minutes. The turmeric in the curry powder will give the onion a yellowish color.
4. Add the spinach and cook until incorporated (and fully heated if your spinach was still frozen).
5. Add the tofu and tomato and gently toss, incorporating all the ingredients, and heat for another 5 minutes or until hot. Stir often, and be gentle so as not to break up all the tofu cubes.
6. If you’ve timed it perfectly, the timer for the rice should be going off right as everything is hot and ready to serve, although perfect timing comes with practice. Serve the palak tofu over the rice, and you should have yourself 3-4 hearty servings.

This is a spectacularly colorful and aromatic dish and will easily satisfy a small dinner group, and impress them too. Share it with your fellow vegetarians, or surprise yourself (or the meat-ophiles in your life!) with an unexpectedly hearty and meat-free dish.

No Pain Lo Mein

So I got taken up by my school's online newspaper! But I'm bringing everything back here in hopes it'll all stay organized and such.

Take a look at the original here: http://flathatnews.com/blog/62/bite-size/73746

Or keep reading:

I have put this recipe through countless adaptations, changing it up based on what I have in my pantry, what I have in my refrigerator and even my mood. At its most basic, it’s a fast, simple way to have fresh lo mein-style noodles in your own home (or dormitory kitchen) and on your own college student budget. This recipe allows for a great deal of improvisation (and I will recommend a few of my own variations) so that you can step this up from a quick lunch in between classes to a classic Asian-style dinner you would be proud to serve to your friends.

There are a few things you will absolutely want to invest in for your home pantry; things you will use a countless number of times, even if for this recipe alone. Get a bottle of soy sauce, a bottle of rice vinegar and a pack of udon noodles. These three staples make up the base of this recipe – the soy sauce gives it the salt, the rice vinegar gives it that familiar sweet tang, and the udon noodles hold it all together. Of course, you could find a different kind of noodle, but stick to something that only takes a few minutes to boil – rice noodles would also be a good choice. You will be able to find all of these things in the international section of any modern supermarket. Many packs of udon noodles come with three individual single-serving bundles of noodles inside, making a quick meal for one even easier.

The Pan-Fried Asian Noodle Recipe:

You will need:
1 Tbsp. oil (olive, vegetable, peanut – you name it)*
1/2 onion, chopped
1 tsp. grated ginger
1 clove of garlic (or equivalent of pre-chopped garlic)*
2 Tbsp. soy sauce*
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar*
1 serving (or bundle) of noodles*
1 cup broccoli florets
1 chopped carrot
1/2 cup chopped chicken or tofu

Now I’ve marked with an asterisk the bare minimum – this recipe is certainly better with a few other ingredients, but in a pinch you can throw it together with just those five.

1. Put a saucepan of water on HIGH and get it boiling – prepare the noodles as the directions call for. When they are fully cooked, strain, rinse them in cold water and set them aside.

2. While this is starting, put a medium frying pan or wok over MEDIUM heat and add the oil. When the oil looks shimmery and hot, add the garlic (and onion and ginger if using) and sauté 1-2 minutes until light golden and extremely aromatic.

3. At this point, add the chicken/tofu, broccoli, carrots, and a splash more oil if there is none left in the pan. Continue sautéing this for 3-4 minutes (or until the chicken is fully cooked). Add the soy sauce and rice vinegar and continue to stir-fry for another minute.

4. Using a slotted spoon or tongues, remove as much of the protein and vegetables as you can and set aside, leaving only the sauce in the pan. Add the rinsed noodles and stir-fry until most of the sauce is absorbed. (Take a quick taste of the noodles – if they’re too salty add another splash of rice vinegar, and if they’re too sour, add another splash of soy sauce.)

5. Add the vegetables/protein back to the pan and continue cooking until all the food is hot and fully incorporated into the stir fry.

It doesn’t get any simpler than that! But it can get more interesting:

Try adding a tablespoon of peanut butter when you add the soy sauce and rice vinegar and stir until it melts – this will thicken the sauce and add a sweet peanut flavor the dish.

Also try adding the juice from 1 lime and 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper for some spice and tang. (I like to add this and the peanut butter for a taste resembling pad thai.)

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Subtle Return - Fresh Mint Agave Limeade

Hello, quiet followers. Summer is well underway (practically over) and I'm finally attempting to put this little blog back into the swing it deserves.

And speaking of Summer, this refreshing beverage is perfectly tart and soothing all at once.

Here's what you'll need:

6-10 fresh, juicy limes (feel free to adjust number to taste)
2 tbsp raw agave nectar (again, feel free to adjust to taste, and going "raw" just ensures it hasn't gone through any wonky processing - honey would also be an apt substitute)
1 handful of fresh mint
2 quarts cold water
This is so incredibly simple. Juice those limes (one of this little juicer dishes works wonders but your hands will still be sore by the end) and pour the juice into a tall pitcher. Cut or tear the mint into smaller pieces, allowing the leaves to bruise and emit their flavors and toss those into the pitcher as well. Add a cup or so of the water stir in the agave nectar until dissolved. Add the rest of the water, make any final taste adjustments, add the ice and serve!

(Lime rinds make a nice garnish and a splash of gin may just push this to an excellent cocktail choice)


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Change of Scenery, A Change in Style

So I thought I'd post an update considering there haven't been many updates recently, since I'm finally settled in back at school. Unfortunately, school means very few resources in the cooking department. I don't want to lose track of the blog though! I need to keep this endeavor thriving. I've got a few ideas percolating and I hope to get some of them on here pretty soon.

I just wanted to let everyone who follows this know that it'll just be a little while before the next post will contain something moderately worth reading :)

Some ideas in the works include a weekly video segment, as well as attempting to examine the artistic side of food without as much direct hands-on experience. (Naturally, I'll be trying to do as much of that as possible, but I've got to make it work with what I've got.)

In great appreciation of my followers,


P.S. For those of you disappointed about not seeing something scrumptious here today, follow this link and check out the restaurant at The Inn at Little Washington. Some of the finest and most beautiful American dining in the country. Click here to check it out!

Friday, January 15, 2010

A Vegan Delight - Broiled Tofu and Spinach Pesto Pasta with Artichokes

So being up in New York city with Sam has brought about the opportunity for some experimental vegan dishes out of a couple of his really nice cookbooks. This particular recipe we borrowed from two of his books, one called "The Veganomicon" by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero, and another called "Vegan with a Vengeance," again by Isa. These books have such a complete collection of vegan recipes, you wouldn't even believe it. From pumpkin waffles to thai green curry and more, this collection is comprehensive and wonderful, even for a habitual meat-eater myself. A lot can be taken from vegan cooking - new methods of preparing foods, new foods in general, and an overall sense of eating well and eating organic. And you can't argue with that.
Spinach pasta with a cilantro-basil pesto sauce with artichoke hearts and red onions topped with garlic-basil broiled tofu. THAT is a mouthful - an exquisite, melt-in-your-mouth flavor explosion of a mouthful. This recipe we modified a bit to make it easier on ourselves, and make it work with the fact that we only have one pot, but this was quite a simple meal and will serve around 4 people.

Here's what you'll need:

For the tofu:
-1 pound extra firm tofu (normally you would have to press it - a process I won't go into here since you don't need to do it! The way we'll be preparing it by broiling it allows you to overlook this lengthy process. So just squeeze out as much moisture as you can and you're set!)
-1/2 cup water or white cooking wine, or vegetable broth - whatever you have
-2 Tablespoons olive oil
-2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
-2 Tablespoons soy sauce (or tamari if you have it - my sources tell me it's nearly the same thing as soy sauce)
-2 Tablespoons lemon juice
-2 cloves of garlic, chopped
-a big chunk of torn up basil leaves

For the pasta:
-1/2-1 pound spinach spaghetti or linguine (depends on how many you want to feed, and spinach pasta is the green kind)
-2 Tablespoons olive oil
-1 medium red onion, chopped in half moons (definitely make sure you get red if you can!)
-4 cloves of chopped garlic
-2 Tablespoons of water (or 1 T water/1 T lemon juice)
-1/2 teaspoon of salt
-several pinches of ground pepper
-1 (15 oz.) can of artichoke hearts (canned in water or brine - NOT oil)
-1 recipe of basil-cilantro pesto (see below)

For the pesto:
-2 cups loosely packed fresh basil
-1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro
-1/4 cup freshly ground unsalted almond butter (having a wholefoods nearby makes this really easy to get, but if you can't, 1/3 cup of sliced unsalted almonds will work perfectly too!)
-2 cloves of garlic
-2 Tablespoons of lemon juice
-1/2 teaspoon of salt
-1/4 cup olive oil

Okay, I know that all seems like a lot, but most of the ingredients are staples you might have lying around your house. Should this be a bit too much, use it for a special occasion! When all served up, this dish is beautifully presentable and can definitely feed a group.

So here's how you'll prepare it:

**We'll learn a new term here today - "mise en place.
[miz ã plas]" It's a French culinary term meaning literally "putting in place." This means get all your ingredients out (chopped if need be) and put in place so they're ready for everything! Doing this can help make sure everything's done on time and at the SAME time, which is ideal.**

1. Start with the sauce for the tofu. This is the easiest to prepare first. Throw the chopped garlic in a bowl with the basil chunks. Add the lemon juice, soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and water. Stir it all up.

2. Turn your oven's broiler to HI. Slice your tofu into centimeter thick slices, cut each one in half, and cut each half into diagonal triangles.
Dip each triangle in the mixture you just made and place each triangle on a lightly greased baking sheet. With the broiler pre-heated, put the tofu under the broiler for 8-10 MINUTES. Set a timer or something, you don't want to burn it. Depending on when you start it, it will come out throughout the rest of the preparation. After it broils ten minutes, pull it out, drizzle some more sauce over it all, and broil again for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, drizzle with the remaining sauce, broil for 3 more, and pull it out and let it set while the rest of the meal finishes up.

2. While the tofu starts to broil, get a pot of salted water on the stove, and turn it on HI. You can do the pesto while you wait for it to boil.
3. For the pesto, put the cilantro, basil, almond butter or almonds, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and olive oil (all the ingredients) in a food processor or blender and blend until it's nice and creamy. As opposed to a typical pesto which would contain pine nuts, almonds are cheaper and will help give it a nice, creamy texture. Make sure there are as few chunks as possible, and scrape down the sides of the blender/processor as necessary. Smell/taste this. Always taste. It should taste great. Set it aside.

4. The water should be boiling by now! Put the pasta in and cook it according the directions on the box - probably around 10 minutes over medium heat. You can do the next part while the pasta cooks.
5. Put the olive oil and red onions (chopped in half moons) in a large skillet and saute until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for a minute or so more.
6. The pasta should be done by now, but don't drain it. Use a slotted pasta spoon to transfer the pasta bit by bit to the skillet with the onions and garlic. Bring the heat to LO. Add some pesto each time you add some pasta. Stir to heat and coat evenly. (At the end, should it be too thick you can use some of the water on the pasta to help coat it.) Saute in the pan until all the pesto and pasta are in, and then add the artichoke hearts and stir to coat, and heat on LO for about 3 minutes.

7. Transfer the pesto pasta to serving bowls and top with 5-6 pieces of the broiled tofu. Serve this to everyone you love and they will love you even more.

This was such a superb dish. The garlic and basil broiled on top of the tofu perfectly complements the flavors of garlic and basil in the pesto, and little bursts of lemon juice bring out the flavor of the artichoke hearts and the red onions add a subtle caramelized flavor to the pasta. The tofu was firm, but soft to bite and broiling allowed the sauce to seep in perfectly. Definitely take a shot at this one - you will not be disappointed.

Signing off, (on a southbound bus home with no leftovers!)


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Half pie, half cake -- ALL PEARS - Pear Tart

So as it turns out, when you buy fruit in bulk, you have a very tiny window of ripeness when you have to eat it. And these huge Bosc pears were no exception. So at their peak ripeness, I thought I'd turn four of them into a fine little pear tart. This pear tart was fast and easy - different than what you'd normally expect as a tart. This is more of a cake. Well, it's more pear slices, smothered in cake batter...that bakes up into a beautiful dessert. Sound good? With only five basic ingredients and a 'throw it all in the bowl and go' philosophy, it can only sound better.

-2 eggs
-1/4 cup milk
-1 cup granulated sugar
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-pinch of salt
-2 pounds of fresh Bosc or Anjou pears (4-6 pears depending on the size)

-butter for dotting the tart
-2 cinnamon sticks (or just some ground cinnamon)
-1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
-1/2 teaspoon allspice
*You could add clove or cinnamon as you see fit as well.

1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees with a rack in the upper third of the oven.
2. Beat the eggs and milk in a large bowl, and then add the sugar, and salt. Then add the flour and stir until the mixture resembles a cake batter.
3. Peel and core the pears and slice into thin slices.
4. Add the slices to the batter and toss until evenly coated. There should be nearly an equal ratio of pears to batter, if only a little more batter.
5. Pour this mixture into a greased and dusted 9 inch cake tin or glass dish.
6. Arrange a couple of cinnamon sticks and sprinkle some cinnamon on top and stick a few pats of butter on there too.
7. Throw in the oven on the rack in the upper third at 375 degrees for about 50 minutes, or until the top is nice and golden brown.
8. After removing it from the oven, let it sit for 15 minutes. This will give time for all the juices to collect and gift it a chance to set.
9. Peel of those cinnamon sticks before serving and you're ready to go! This dish is best served either warm or room temperature.

This dessert is so delicious and so simple to make, especially after cinnamon rolls and boston cream pie - two daunting endeavors. With this recipe, everything gets thrown in a pan and baked with no fancy processes or skills to learn. So, not quite a challenge, but a simple way to use up that ripe fruit without letting it go to waste.
As for taste, it's sweet and tart, but not too much of either. It's almost like pie and almost like cake, but not too much of either. Imagine if pie filling were made with cake. And pears. And it was all warm and seasoned with cinnamon inside a light golden brown crust. That's this. And this is great.
Signing off sweetly,


Boston Cream Pie with Mascarpone Custard - and that's saying a lot

Now THAT is a fine dessert. Sam, Amanda and I all got together and decided that a Boston Cream Pie would be the best dessert we could possibly make for the night. And Amanda's mom had a secret recipe for a custard made with mascarpone cheese and vanilla beans which provided the perfect touch to this fantastic dessert. Boston Cream Pie isn't quite a pie, it's a cake rather. Two layers of soft sponge cake with a custard layer in between, topped with a shiny chocolate ganache. Sound like a challenge? It certainly was, and we took it on with full force. Even with our amateur skills, we pulled off a fine dessert and you can do the same. Shall we get onto the recipe? This one primarily came from here:


with the exception of Amanda's mother's custard recipe which we used in place of the custard provided. And below you'll find everything you need to replicate this fine dessert at home. (Should you want to forego the expense of mascarpone and stick with the foodnetwork.com recipe for the custard, you would be absolutely fine - but let me tell you, this custard is the most delicious custard I have EVER tasted. No lies. You'll find our modified recipe below:


-1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (cake flour would make it fluffier if you have it, but it's a minor detail)
-2/3 cup sugar
-1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
-1/4 teaspoon salt
-1/2 cup milk
-1/4 cup vegetable oil
-2 eggs (separated - you'll need both yolks and both whites separately)
-1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar (this helps the egg whites get all fluffy when you beat them)

-2 cups milk (avoid skim milk if you can, whole milk would be ideal)
-1 cup sugar
-1 vanilla bean and seeds, split and scraped (this adds a BEAUTIFUL touch, but a teaspoon of vanilla extract would suffice should these be unavailable)
-a pinch of salt
-4 eggs
-1/3 cup all-purpose flour
-8 oz mascarpone cheese (most mascarpone cheese comes in an 8 oz container)
-2 tablespoons butter (unsalted and chilled, ideally)
-2 tablespoons vanilla extract

-8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
-1 cup heavy cream

Okay, sounds like a lot of ingredients - and it is. And it sounds like a lot of detailed work - and it is. This is about to be a long post, but if you take everything step by step, proceed with care, and BE PATIENT, everything will come together perfectly. I'll even number the steps for you to make it a bit easier.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (Easy enough)
2. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl and make a well in the center after combining. Add the milk, oil, egg yolks, and vanilla to the well:
3. Using an electric mixer, beat on a low/medium setting until combined, and continue beating for three minutes.
4. In another (large!) mixing bowl beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. This will be a few minutes but you'll know when you get there. Amanda demonstrates:
5. Now you're going to pour the egg yolk mixture into the egg white mixture, and fold them together, which will incorporate them without deflating the egg whites you just whipped to perfection. If they deflate too much, your cake will be less fluffy, so using a spatula, just fold the mixtures on top of each other until they look well-incorporated. Gently pour your mixture into a greased 9 inch cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until the center of the cake springs back after lightly pressing. When it's done, remove and invert the cake onto a wire rack and let it cool completely.
6. We'll start the custard now, while the cake bakes. Place milk and sugar in a large saucepan and prepare the vanilla bean by slicing it down the center and scraping the seeds out. Place the empty bean and all the seeds in the milk and sugar mixture and heat over medium heat until the sugar dissolves.
7. In a separate bowl, whisk the 4 eggs until blended and gradually add the flour, whisking until most of the lumps are gone. The next step is a bit tricky.
8. You're going to temper the eggs with the hot milk mixture. Because adding hot liquid to eggs could essentially COOK them, we want to avoid this, so that our cake is not filled with scrambled eggs. Take 1 cup of the hot milk mixture (which you will want to strain, as to remove the large vanilla husk and seeds) and slowly add that 1 cup of hot milk mixture to the eggs, constantly whisking so that they heat slowly and evenly. Strain the rest of the milk mixture into the egg mixture and then add the whole thing back to the saucepan - it needs to be heated again.
9. Constantly whisk this mixture (which is slowly becoming your custard) until it begins to boil. It will slowly start to thicken as it boils, and let it boil for one minute to remove the starchy flavor from the flour.
10. While this boils (remember to whisk it constantly!) Put your mascarpone cheese and the butter in a bowl and mash them to combine. After your mixture has boiled, pour it over the mascarpone and butter, add the vanilla, and stir until it's entirely incorporated. Then, cover with plastic wrap, making sure to press the plastic wrap against the surface of the custard to prevent a skin from forming. This would be gross otherwise. Refrigerate this until it is chilled. DO NOT ATTEMPT USING THE CUSTARD BEFORE IT IS CHILLED. This requires patience, and is crucial to a successful pie.
11. You can proceed to this step once your custard is chilled and your cake is cool. Cut the cake in half horizontally, creating two separate layers of cake. Spread your chilled custard on to the bottom half and place the other half on top, making sure that the flattest part is facing upward. Let that sit while you make the ganache.
12. For the ganache, first begin by finely chopping ALL of the chocolate - it needs to be able to melt quickly. Then heat the cup of heavy cream over medium heat until it begins to boil. In a small bowl, pour the boiling cream over your chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is melted and you have a beautiful, shiny chocolate sauce. That's your ganache! It's so easy!
13. Transfer your cake to a serving plate and pour the ganache over your cake and custard layers, making sure it spreads evenly and doesn't end up thicker in certain places. Let it cover the top and sides of your cake, and store in the refrigerator.

CONGRATULATIONS! YOUR BOSTON CREAM PIE IS DONE! My advice: let it chill in the refrigerator for an hour. This dessert is best served cold, and with that rich vanilla custard, fluffy sponge cake, and semisweet chocolate ganache, you will be SO greatly rewarded for your patience. I'll include a picture of our finished product, although we ended up making a mess all over our serving tray with our ganache. It goes to show that you don't have to use it ALL :)
This turned out so well, and any pratfalls we encountered I've made sure to explain in detail so you guys won't encounter the same ones and YOUR boston cream pie can turn out even better! Definitely do give this a try, even without the vanilla beans and mascarpone this dessert can be perfectly gourmet.

Special thanks to Sam Draxler and Amanda Kohr for their fine culinary help, without which, this chef would have been stumbling over himself trying to get this all sorted out!

Signing off for now (only a third of this fine cake remains!),