Monday, April 16, 2007

Vijay's Kheema

(RECIPE UPDATED, 10/16/07)
One of my co-workers, Sue, is married to a fellow from India named Vijay - He's one of the sweetest, nicest guys I've met, but he's not feeling too well lately. He's improving every day, though and we're all sending good thoughts his way. Since I've been thinking of him so much recently, I thought of this recipe that he gave me a few years ago, called Kheema.
(Vijay and Sue, at Sue's daughter's wedding)

Kheema is basic Pujabi (northern India) home cookin'. It's usually made with ground lamb, but any ground meat will do; I normally use a lean ground beef.
I also take Vijay's sage advice and add an array of veggies to the pot, cubed potatoes, green beans, and pigeon peas - an ancient legume, very important to Indian agriculture. They're perfect for this dish, providing a nice firm texture and deep earthy flavor. You might find them in the Mexican section of your grocery - in Spanish, they're known as "gandules".

This is also a great cold weather dish, and a dish that really sticks to your ribs - good ol' fashioned home cookin'!

Use an old coffee grinder for grinding the spices or buy a second one just for that purpose. The difference fresh ground spices makes is tremendous. Since I had to stop drinking coffee (irritable bowel woes...), I simply retired the old coffee grinder to a second career.

Kheema, by Vijay
2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
Leaves from 1 stalk of curry (about 8 curry leaves - find them at your local Asian store)
½" peeled & finely chopped fresh ginger
6 cloves of garlic, minced (6 of 'em! oh yeah!)
2 pounds of ground meat (lamb or a decent beef, like sirloin)
8 white cardamom pods
½ teaspoon of black peppercorns
½ teaspoon of cumin seeds
½ teaspoon of mustard seed
a couple of dried red chili peppers, (like the Asian peppers (those nice long skinny hot ones you always pull out from the kung pao)
1 teaspoon of salt
2 Tablespoons of garam masala (if you can't find it locally, order it from Penzey's)
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 cup of cut green beans
1 can of pigeon peas (gandules), drained. (I think it's a 14.5 ounces can)
Cubed potatoes, ½"cubes (I use 3 regular sized russets, about 2 cups or so)

I usually don't have fresh ginger on hand, but I always have a tube of ginger paste in the fridge. Fortunately for me, my local grocery store carries it, so look around! It's probably hiding out there somewhere. Also useful for this dish is a small can of whole tomatoes (in tomato juice) instead of fresh - I keep a couple of cans in the cupboard at all times for just such an emergency... chop up the entire can and add the juice, too.

The directions:
Grind together the following:
8 white cardamom pods
½ teaspoon of black peppercorns
½ teaspoon of cumin seeds
½ teaspoon of mustard seed
chili peppers

Add the oil to a large (did I say large? I meant LARGE) skillet and sauté the onion and the curry leaves until the onion is soft and transparent.
Add the ginger and garlic and sauté for another minute or so.
Add the ground meat and brown it for 10 minutes. Break it up so it is in fine pieces.
Add the spices, tomatoes, and veggies, stir it all around...Cook, covered, on low heat for about 40 minutes (stir it every 10 minutes or so...)

The finished product:

Sometimes I serve this with basmati rice that I flavor with a bit of cumin, cilantro and some whole garlic cloves. The cloves boil and steam to a tender softness that allows them to be spread on some bread...

Enjoy, and think good things for Vijay.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Vintner's Dressing - I'm ready for grape season

My wife loves Prevention Magazine and has had a subscription for a number of years. Back on 2004, they had the recipe for this dressing as part of another, their "Spinach-Endive Salad with Vintner's Dressing" (nice photo on their website). We make it in the summertime and usually just toss it with chopped romaine or other leafy lettuces. The smoked almonds and fresh grapes give a great variety of textures and flavors, especially when combined with the blue cheese crumbles (so says my wife - I can't stand blue cheese!). I thought that this would be way too sweet for my tastes, but I was quite wrong - it is a bit sweet, but the other ingredients help cut it nicely. We also have made this with Nakano's Balsamic Blend Seasoned Rice vinegar, as well as my favorite commercial balsamic, Monari Federzoni.

Here's Prevention's original recipe:
Spinach-Endive Salad with Vintner's Dressing
1 Tbsp rice wine or white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp olive oil
¼ tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1½ c sm red seedless grapes
2 Belgian endives (12 oz), sliced crosswise
3 c baby spinach
¼ c crumbled Gorgonzola or blue cheese
3 Tbsp chopped smoked almonds

Using a blender or hand blender, process the vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, and ¾ cup of the grapes until smooth. Set aside for dressing.
Toss endive, spinach, and remaining 3/4 cup grapes in salad bowl. When ready to serve, toss with dressing, and top with cheese (or not!) and almonds.

For more information about commercial balsamic vinegars and the difference between commercial and traditional balsamic vinegar, Cook's Illustrated has an excellent article here.
They also have a nice guide to tasting and buying commercial balsamic.


Thursday, April 12, 2007

Flat Iron Steak grilled with a Southwest rub

Last year while visiting the Indianapolis Children's Museum, we stayed at a nearby hotel that had a TGIFriday's in it. It had been years since our last visit to Friday's and the menu had changed quite a bit from what we remembered. When served, we were pleasantly surprised, and my dish impressed us the most. I had the Flat Iron steak, which the menu said was "hand-cut especially for Friday’s®". I'd never heard of this cut of beef before, but it looked good and I was hungry... I asked for it medium rare and it was cooked perfectly, and more tender than I could believe for the price. The flavor matched it's tenderness and I was quite satisfied by the time the obligatory "save any room for dessert?" question was asked (No, I didn't...Boogie had the "Cup of Dirt", though!)
Now I know why it was so good. According to Wikipedia, the Flat Iron steak is:
"a relatively new cut of steak from the shoulder of a cow. The steak was discovered by researchers at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida during the course of a study of undervalued cuts of beef. The study also found that this specific cut is the second most tender cut of meat, after the tenderloin. "

I'd forgotten about the Flat Iron until I discovered them in the beef case on a recent visit to the grocery. I had to try it out at home.
On the peel-away label was a recipe for a southwest rub - what the heck, lets try that...
So here it is a bit more legible than the photo:

Flat Iron Steak grilled with a Southwest rub
1 - 1 ½ pound Flat Iron steak
2 Tablespoons Chili powder
2 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon worchestershire sauce
¼ teaspoon ground red pepper (Cayenne)
a hot grill...

Fire up the grill, get it good and hot...
Mix all of the seasonings, dry and wet in a small bowl:
Spread ½ of the mixture on one side of the steak, then toss it on the hot grill seasoned-side down.
Spread the rest of the mixture on the on the top of steak:
Grill to medium rare - try to turn it only once if possible,the less handling/flipping of the beef, the better.
Remove it from the grill and place on a plate to rest for 5 minutes:
Then slice the steak straight across, not on the bias:
and serve:

I served the steak medium-rare with the leftover Mashed Sweet Potatoes ( a fantastic and simple recipe from Cook's Illustrated) and Classic Green Bean Casserole from Sunday's Easter Dinner. For the Green Bean casserole, I always use frozen French style green beans. It's what I grew up with so, of course, it's best that way!


Pork Tenderloin Medallions with an Orange Reduction

I was just winging this one, makin' it up as I went along. As many of you may know, that can be real dangerous, but I got lucky on this one...Of course, with a good cut like pork tenderloin, it's gotta come out pretty good no matter what, but this one was excellent. This was also my first attempt at a reduction, and I think I succeeded. I have two more tenderloins in the freezer and this recipe is going to make onto at least one of them for sure.

Pork Tenderloin Medallions with an Orange Reduction
1 lb (or more) pork tenderloin
½ teaspoon ground Cumin
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon dried Cilantro
¼ teaspoon Cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground dry mustard
¼ cup white wine
¼ cup chicken stock
¼ cup Orange Juice (fresh blood orange if you can get one)
1 Tablespoon of butter

Slice the pork diagonally into 1 inch slices.
Mix the seasonings (cumin, garlic, cilantro, and cayenne) in a small bowl.
Mix the white wine, chicken stock, and orange juice in a small bowl.
Sprinkle half of the seasoning mixture onto the pork slices and rub it in.
Turn the slices and repeat with the rest of the seasoning.
In a large non-stick skillet, melt the butter over medium-low heat.
Place the seasoned pork in-the hot pan and brown slowly on one side, then turn to brown the other side.

When browned on both sides, pour 1/3 of the orange juice mixture AROUND the pork, not over it.
Bring to a slow boil and cover. allow this to simmer for 3-4 minutes.
Remove the pork from the pan to a warm dish, cover and keep warm.
Increase the heat to Medium-High and bring the broth in the pan to a boil.
Add the remaining orange juice mixture, stirring to scrape up any bits from the bottom and sides of the pan.
Keep stirring constantly until reduced by ½ to ¾ and thickened.
Serve the pork with a generous drizzle of the reduction over it.

I was so eager to eat this that I forgot to take pictures...Next time...
Next time indeed (01/22/08):


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Panko Crusted Scallops

Last week I bought some beautiful jumbo scallops, only 6 to a pound, and so large that I sliced them in half horizontally to make a dozen still-huge scallps ready for pan frying. I found a recipe on for Panko Shrimp for 2 and adapted it for the scallops. Not much adaptation was really required, though, just substitute the scallops for the shrimp. The result was quite satisfying and I'm looking forward to the next time my favorite bivalve mollusk is on sale...

Panko Crusted Scallops
The ingredients:
6 large scallops (6-8 per pound) sliced in half horizontally
1 egg, beaten with a little milk (a couple if teaspoons or so)
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

The Directions:
Mix seasonings with egg and milk mix.
Put flour on one paper plate and Panko on another.
Dry the scallops well.
Dip the scallops into the flour mix first, then into egg mix and finally into the Panko crumbs.
Be sure to coat well with Panko.
Place the scallops on a pan and let coating dry in refrigerator until ready to fry.
These can be prepared earlier in the day to save time.
Fry the scallops a few at a time (don't crowd them in the pan!) in 350 degree oil until golden brown drain on paper towels and serve.
Served with Parmesan Roasted Asparagus.

If desired you can add some parmesan cheese or other seasonings to the Panko.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Dinner in a frozen bag?

So after yesterday's Big Easter Dinner (more detailed post coming soon), I decided that today's dinner would be nice and simple - straight from a bag to the pot to the table; I decided to try one of the Bertolli "Classic Dinners" from my grocer's freezer section. They are advertised as "skillet dinners for two that deliver a restaurant-quality at-home dining experience in just minutes". I went with the Chicken ala Vodka & Farfalle. The instructions are simple enough - drop the contents of the bag into a 12" skillet and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes and serve. I can do that...

First a complaint, although I really should have known better. No, it's not about the quality of the meal, but the quantity. Yes - I read the package, I know it says "dinner for 2", and I know that Boogie's eating enough to qualify as a full blown grown-up person now (even more than that. He's gonna really clean us out when he hits those teenage years!), but I figured serving sizes are pretty big these days, based on my restaurant experiences...WRONG! Once the dish was done there was just enough for 2... fortunately we had some leftovers from The Big Easter Dinner.

Second, a compliment. Several, actually. The stuff was pretty good. Yes, I was surprised... There were enthusiastic yummy sounds coming from both sides of me, thing like "This is really good, daddy", and "Mmm, I like this. Is there more?" (sorry, Dear, there isn't...). The sauce was just a tad bit greasy and was just about to break as I took it off the burner and served it up, but it had good mouth and flavor, with lots of garlic and herb taste present. There wasn't nearly as much chicken as I would like, but the chicken that was there was very tender breast meat. It was a bit pricey for a frozen meal, up over $7, so I'm not sure about trying another, but it was simpe and tasty. If I know I'm going to be pressed for time again (ok, so I definately know that'll happen...), I may have to try another, perhaps the Shrimp Fra Diavolo...

Here's the photo essay, start to finish:
The ingredients and tools:

Preparation - As easy as:


(Those big brownish chunks will become the sauce...)

The finished product:

Plated and ready to serve:

If there are two of you and you're not too hungry, give this a try.
If there are two of you and you are hungry, make a salad, make some tomato butter and get some good crusty bread, open up a Chianti (Bertolli's web site says to have a Merlot with it...), THEN give it a try.
It was pretty good.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

Our Favorite Asparagus - Parmesan Roasted

A couple of years ago, my wife returned from visiting a friend in Colorado with some great stories, photos, and this recipe - her friends favorite recipe for asparagus, from Ina Garten's "Barefoot Contessa" show and one of her cook books (I don't know which one, but it's on page 46...). The "Contessa" says in her book (I only have photocopied page of this recipe) that she prefers thick asparagus, but I kind of like the thin ones better. I make it as a side dish, using only a pound instead of the 2 ½ she calls for in her recipe.
We made this recently along side some panko crusted scallops (yep, I'll post that one, too), and, as usual, they came out great. The recipe is simple and straight forward and you don't need anything special other than some good fresh asparagus:

Parmesan Roasted Asparagus
1 pound fresh asparagus
Olive Oil
Kosher salt
ground black pepper
Parmesam cheese

Yeah, there's no exact amounts, just follow the directions below and use your best guess on what you like:
Preheat your oven to 400°
Trim the aspragus of their tough woody bottoms - don't worry it's easy. Just snap the bottoms where they want to snap. It's so easy even a 6 year old can do it:

If you have thick asparagus and the bottoms after "snapping" are still tough, just peel the bottoms down a bit with a vegetable peeler.
Lay the trimmed asparagus on a foil lined cookie sheet:
and drizzle them with olive oil. Salt and pepper them:

Roast them in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes - BE CAREFUL and keep an eye on them. If they are thin, you'll only need 15 minutes at most.
sprinkle the parmesan over them and pop them back into the oven for just a minute, then serve them up. The Contessa suggests serving them with lemon wedges, we just like 'em straight up.

This is the finished product along side the afore mentioned scallops:


Oh, and sorry about the video quality above; it's our first attempt at using video on this blog. We'll try again and might even use sound next time!

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Not too fishy...

As I promised Boogie, we bought some Nigiri this past weekend on our trip to the grocery - actually he picked it out, a very nice looking sampler pack with a bit of everything: California rolls, Tuna, Salmon, Shrimp and Unagi - yes Eel. I actually bought Eel. Barbecued Eel. To eat. Really...

And once we got home, it was a race to get the groceries put away so he could bust open the package. First between the chopsticks was the Unagi. I was a bit tentative to try it, but Boogie dove right in and I barely got a taste:

Once I finally got a bite, I was surprised - it was pretty tasty. So were the other pieces inthe pack, so I guess were just as hooked as the fish we were eating.

Ok, ok, just one more pic...I love the contrast between the sophisticated food and technique and the kids cup and band-aid...just too cute,but that's my boy!


Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Sage bush no more...but more Chicken with Sage Browned Butter

I've noticed a number of food bloggers have been very excited about the arrival of spring, posting photos of their flowers and gardens. I, too, had been been bitten by the nice weather and early sproutlings, at least I was until I started cleaning up my herb garden this past weekend - I've discovered that my beloved sage bush has bit the dust -nothing but dead wood.
below is a photo of the bush late last summer as it was blooming (ignore the neighbors chipped paint garage (they've since painted!). That's thyme on the left, and oregano and French tarragon on the right...).
I suspected that something was amiss back then, as it only achieved about 2/3 of it's usual size, reaching only about 24" in height, with none of the leaves being any longer than 5" or so... In years past, the bush sprang up to almost 3 feet tall with leaves as long as 7" - Super Sage! I had so much sage, and I gave most of it away. None of the recipients could ever believe the enormity of the herb I was bringing them, and now, it is no more, nothing but a bare, brown, brittle non-sprouting foot tall stump.

I first planted this sage 11 or 12 years ago from a store bought pot, I think from Miejer. For the several years it didn't do much, barely surviving from year to year with smallish inch and a half leaves and not much in the way of overall yield. Then, suddenly, after the 4th or 5th year, KABOOM! My little plant seemed to just explode with vigor, growing rapidly and producing absolutely enormous leaves averaging 6" long withsome as long as 7½" and well over an inch wide. I've always thought that this happened when the little guy finally pushed it's roots through the thick Ohio clay and in to some good rich stuff waiting underneath. But now...sniff, sniff...I miss it already.

I do have some seeds from last year, so I may try to grow it's children. After my initial sadness, though, I also realize that this is the perfect excuse opportunity to head over to the nursery to pick out a new baby
Ah, there's the silver lining! After all, I've gotta have fresh sage. One of our favorite dishes is a simple broiled chicken recipe I saw on an old episode of "The Frugal Gourmet". Jeff Smith had some guest chefs on making their restaurant's signature dish. One chef made broiled chicken thighs with sage browned butter. It was so simple andd seemed so elegant, that I just had to try it. Big success ensued...
I've never been able to find a video of the episode or a copy of the recipe from it, and i've never really written it down, so I'm just going to wing it here:

Broiled Chicken Thighs with Sage Browned Butter

What you need:
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 stick of butter
16 - 20 large sage leaves
salt and pepper
freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

What you do:
Salt and pepper the chicken on both sides.
Put the chicken, smooth side down, on a wire rack in a roasting pan. Be sure spread the thighs out.
Broil the chicken thighs, turning half way through, until done and just crispy on the edges. Remove them broiler, and keep them warm.

In a large(wide) frying pan, melt the butter. Put the sage leaves in the cooking butter in a single layer - don't let them overlap. Keep heating the butter slowly, but do not allow it to boil.
The idea is to:
  1. Fry the sage leaves until they are crisp;
  2. Cook the butter slowly so that it browns but doesn't burn
While frying the leaves, you will need to turn them carefully. As the leaves crisp up, they will turn dark. Once they are dark and crispy, carefully remove them to a paper towel - they will be a bit brittle. The butter should also be turning dark at this point, too.

Place the chicken thighs on the serving plates and sprinkle them with some Reggiano. Keep heating the butter while swirling the pan slowly until the butter browns - you should actually see it turn from it's golden color to a chestnutty brown. immediately remove it from the heat and spoon a generous amount over each thigh - the cheese will sizzle and melt (I love that part!). Top each thigh with at least a couple of sage leave (more if they're small) and serve with either wide egg noodles or fresh made mashed potatoes (either of them buttered with the browned butter). Munch on any extra fried sage leaves...