Monday, March 28, 2011

Walk Against Hunger with I'll Eat You (Again)

The Walk Against Hunger is once again approaching! Please join us in supporting our area food banks by making a donation, or better yet, come walk with us on Saturday, April 9. It's a very pleasant stroll, and, I can't promise anything, but last year there were free bananas! Thanks for your support!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Cauliflower and Chickpeas with Spiced Coconut Dressing and Candied Pistachios

When tasked with coming up with something to bring to a vegan Purim party, my thoughts went immediately to the partial can of coconut milk sitting in the fridge. It enabled a vegan re-imagining of a cauliflower and chickpea salad with yogurt dressing we sometimes make, an idea more or less stolen from one we had at Royal Tavern. The coconut milk inspired a much more Indian take on the dish, and I think the results were pretty tasty.

When it comes to Indian flavors, I sometimes feel like I know the words, but not the music: I know the spices and the basics of toasting them in oil to bring out their flavors, but I don't have confidence in my ability to make a cohesive dish whose flavors really ring true. Luckily this salad exhibited some nice depth of flavor from the spices, richness and body from the coconut, and a spicy kick from the chili, so even if it wasn't authentic, it was enjoyable. Some spiced candied pistachios, included on Lauren's suggestion, provided textural contrast and a slightly sweet counterpoint to the vegetables. Like the best vegetarian and vegan food, you never get the sensation that anything is missing, because it's a dish that lets its ingredients express themselves on their own terms. Here's how to make it:

For the vegetables:
1 head cauliflower, cut into small florets, rinsed and drained
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
garam masala
ground cumin
kosher salt
vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the prepared cauliflower in a large bowl, add about a tablespoon of oil, a generous pinch of salt, and a teaspoon or so of garam masala and toss to coat and combine. Spread the cauliflower out on a cookie sheet, in a single layer if possible, and roast in the oven until the cauliflower is tender, but not browned, stirring occasionally for about 20-25 minutes.

Take the cauliflower out and turn the oven up to 400°. Toss the chickpeas with a touch of oil, a sprinkle of salt, and generous shakes of the cumin and paprika. Spread on a cookie sheet and roast, shaking the pan occasionally, until the chickpeas are almost crisp on the outside, maybe 10-15 minutes.

In the meantime, make the "dressing":
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp whole black mustard seeds
1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
8-12 cardamom pods, gently crushed
1/2 tsp ground red chili, or to taste
1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 tsp ground dried ginger, or 1 tsp minced fresh ginger
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 can coconut milk, or however much you have lying around
juice of 1/2 lemon

In a pan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the mustard seeds, cumin, cardamom and chili. Toast the spices, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add the onion, ginger and turmeric, reduce heat to low and cook until onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Add the coconut milk and bring to a boil, then simmer and reduce until fairly thick, about 10 minutes. Add the lemon juice after cooking is complete. Remove the cardamom pods if you can, lest they get confused with pistachios once the whole dish is put together.

And while the dressing is reducing, you can make the pistachios:
1/3 C pistachios (shelled)
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground cayenne
1/2 tsp ground cumin

Heat all ingredients together in a non-stick skillet over medium heat. As the sugar melts, toss the pan's contents around with a spatula to coat. Let cool and break apart any pistachios that have stuck together.

To serve, mix the cauliflower, chickpeas, and dressing in a bowl. Adjust seasoning to taste, then top with the pistachios and a chopped handful of cilantro. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Friday, March 18, 2011

It's Alive! Sourdough Starter

You know, at this point in human history, we can travel hundreds of miles in an hour and carry gigabytes upon gigabytes of information in our pockets, but there are few things that really feel like "magic". Old-fashioned film photography was one: dipping a piece of paper in some nasty-smelling chemicals and an image suddenly appearing – that was like magic.

I humbly submit sourdough starter as another modern miracle. Well, not so much modern, because it's thousands of years old, but the idea that by simply mixing flour with water and letting it sit around a while, you can develop your own little ecosystem, teeming with life, all in a delicate balance that's ready to leaven and flavor your bread ... there's something wonderful and mysterious about that. Even if you understand the underlying microbiology, it's still amazing to see a seemingly inert mixture of ingredients spring to life before your eyes.

Making it is simple – I followed the directions in the Tartine Bread cookbook. Equal parts of whole wheat and bread flour are mixed to create a reserve of starter food. Some of this blend is then mixed with an equal part of water to make a thick batter, covered with a towel, and allowed to sit at room temperature for two to three days. The wild yeast and bacteria present in the flour, in the air, and on your hands will then start to munch on the flour and multiply, creating carbon dioxide bubbles and a host of funky smells that will eventually contribute lactic (sour milk-like) and acetic (vinegary) bites to the finished dough.

It might have been due to the low temperature in our kitchen, but it took a little longer than the prescribed two to three days to see much action on the starter. But by day four, it was bubbly and starting to smell pretty weird (which is good). I did have a problem with the water separating out from the flour, but quick stir remedied that and it didn't seem any worse for the wear.

Once you've gotten your starter started, you need to feed it regularly by discarding about 80% of it and then adding more water/flour mixture to make up the difference. As the day goes on, the fresh grains will fall victim to your teeming hordes of microorganisms and keep the process going. From what they say in the book, the starter is pretty hardy, so you can feed it on an every-other-day schedule (or less) ... you don't have to worry about arranging a sitter if you go out of town, and I wouldn't necessarily recommend packing it in your luggage to tend to while you're away.

Now that it's been about two weeks, it's time to try making some bread with this. Tartine Bread's recipe is many, many pages long, and I don't anticipate getting it right on the first try, but in any case it'll be neat to see how the special magic in the starter makes the bread unique. Check back soon!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Recipe Remix: Whole-Orange Bundt with Chocolate Ganache

Knowing my fondness for the nigh-unbeatable combination of chocolate and orange, for my birthday, Lauren made me this cake from Always Order Dessert. The hook with this recipe is that it uses two pureed oranges, peel, pith and all. The resulting cake had great flavor, but it was D-E-N-S-E ... almost like a pound cake, but with an even tighter structure and less "give" when your fork tries to go through it. This needed to be addressed.

So, I convened a blue-ribbon panel of leading food scientists, and an additional advisory commission consisting of various luminaries of the liberal arts, information technology, maritime law, and ladies haberdashery. After two weeks, they had failed to so much as decide on sparkling or still water for the boardroom table. Disappointed, but with newfound resolve, I set off to muck about with the recipe myself.

The adjustments: Less butter. Replacing a bit of the flour with cornstarch (thanks, King Arthur). Baking soda rather than baking powder. Mixing the batter with the cake method.

The result was a cake that was indeed much lighter, but maybe a bit TOO light. It wasn't threatening to float away anytime soon, but it was missing some of the appealing denseness of the original. Also, to me at least, it had an unfortunate baking soda-y aftertaste, maybe because I swapped the soda for powder at a 1:1 ratio. So presented below is a compromise that should produce a cake that is neither doorstoppish or antacidy.

2 whole oranges (seedless please; this time I used one navel and one blood orange)
2 sticks butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
2 tsp baking soda
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350° and spray/flour/Baker's Joy a Bundt pan.

With a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar together on medium speed. While that's going, cut oranges into manageable chunks (remember, don't peel them!) and puree in a food processor or blender. Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt.

After the butter and sugar are creamed nicely, add the eggs and vanilla. Switch mixer to low speed, then add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the orange puree, the second third of the flour, the other half of the puree, and finally the rest of the flour, pausing between each addition to allow everything to incorporate. Turn off the mixer and give the batter a final few folds with your spatula, then put the batter in the pan and pop in the oven. Depending on your oven, check for doneness around 45 minutes, though it may take up to an hour to bake. Cool in pan for 15 minutes or so, then invert onto a wire rack.

14 oz chopped chocolate, the darker the better
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 tsp orange extract (optional)

Heat the cream in a saucepan until almost boiling, then pour over chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Allow to cool for 10 minutes or so, then pour over cake to glaze.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'll Scoop You: Indian Restaurant Open

Well here we are "reporting" again, but we just took a little walk on the 1600 block of South Street and noticed that the new Indian restaurant, called Indian Restaurant, is having its grand opening this evening. This spot at 1634 South is run by the good people from King of Tandoor up on Callowhill Street, and from initial impressions it looks like the menu and decor are very much in line with the other location. An exciting addition to the neighborhood to be sure, as we're fans of the original, and we were really pushing the boundaries of their delivery area when we've ordered from them in the past.

I'm wondering if the place being called Indian Restaurant is in some way SEO-related, so that when people Google "indian restaurant philadelphia" they're at the top of the list?