Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Food Rant

So normally I come here to share some recipes. I know a few people read them. I have no idea if people actually make them. And if you don't, that's fine--I myself rarely make recipes that I read on food blogs. But what I do very sincerely hope, whether you cook my recipes or not, is that you are cooking. I hope that you are feeding yourself well. I hope that you are putting food into your body that will sustain your body. That your diet looks like a rainbow. And maybe even that you follow one of Michael Pollan's food rules--"Eat as much junk food as you want, as long as you cook it yourself."

The British chef Jamie Oliver has been a hero of mine for a long time now. Not only does he run a restaurant in London, he seems to come out with a new cookbook every year (I have six of them), and his restaurant itself is doing a world of good--it's called Fifteen, because he takes in 15 young people who have had a rough time of it, and trains them to be chefs. Wow. Plus, he reformed the school cafeteria scene in Britain.

And now he's getting a ton of press for what he's doing in America. I encourage you to watch his show, which is on ABC every Friday at 9pm. His latest cookbook, Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, has the same title as the show, and I would recommend it if you're looking for something to teach you basic recipes. Or at least watch this inspiring clip, in which he talks about what exactly it is he's trying to do.

As he says, "My wish is for everyone to help create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity."

I hope you will, in some small way, support this. Even if just means going to a farmer's market, buying something fresh, and cooking it for dinner.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Cooking for One: India

Let me state up front that today's cooking for one takes a little more time than previous entries, but (a) it's the weekend, so maybe you have a little extra time, and (b) I want to show that making a full meal--especially in a cuisine that may be foreign to you--is not as time-consuming as you think it is. This meal can be prepared in less than 30 minutes. And considering that most people only eat Indian food at a restaurant, you will certainly save money by cooking it yourself. And, as promised, I've followed another cooking-for-one principle--using ingredients that I already have on hand, so you actually save time that way too, because you don't have to seek out anything exotic.

Here's the menu:

Chicken Tikka Masala
Ginger Chive Rice
Onion Naan

Now, in order to do this meal as quickly as possible, it's important to do things in the order that I list here. The naan dough, for example, has to rest before it's cooked, so you'll want to mix it early in the cooking process. If time isn't really important to you, or you plan on prepping this meal over the course of the day, feel free to mix up the steps as is convenient for you. But, to do this all in one go, here's what should happen:

1. Peel and finely chop 2 cloves of garlic, 1-2 inches of fresh ginger, and one medium onion (I've started to keep chopped onion in my refrigerator because I use it almost every time I cook. Consider doing this. That way, you don't have to spend time peeling and chopping every time you make a dish.).

2. In a small pan, heat some olive oil over medium-low heat and sautee the garlic, half the ginger, and one crushed chili pepper.

3. While it's sauteing, mix your naan dough (recipe found in previous post--add some finely chopped onion if you wish). Cover with a dish towel.

4. Pour the garlic mixture (leaving olive oil in the pan) into a bowl along with: 1/2 c of plain yougurt, 1 tsp. paprika, 1 tsp. ground cumin. Mix.

5. Cube one or two small chicken breasts, add to the yougurt mixture and stir to coat. *Note: Usually, I do this with already cooked chicken that I have leftover. Feel free to use raw chicken, just increase your cooking time later.

6. Make the rice. I used basmati rice because I had it, but use what you have! Because it's just one, make a small portion. Boil 1/2 c water--won't take long--with the rest of your chopped ginger and some salt. When it boils, add 1/4 c rice, turn down heat, and simmer, covered, until water is absorbed. Take off heat and leave covered until ready to use.

7. In the pan you sauteed the garlic in, saute your chopped onion, a sprinkling of paprika, cumin, and salt, until onion is transluscent. While this is happening, begin to heat a dry pan, preferably cast-iron, over high heat.

8. Add chicken/yougurt mixture to onions along with 1 T of tomato sauce. Saute until cooked or heated through. Meanwhile, cook your naan. Divide rested dough into three balls of equal size. Roll out on a floured surface, and cook in dry pre-heated pan until browned on each side (~1 minute or less).

9. Sprinkle rice with chopped chives.

10. Enjoy! You can use the naan as your only eating utensil!

A few closing notes:

*Of course, this isn't true chicken tikka masala, which would include a spice blend called garam masala and ground almonds, and maybe even some ground coriander and mustard seed. These aren't really ingredients I have around, so I didn't include them, as I was following my cooking-for-one principles!

*These recipes--along with all the recipes I share--are flexible. You don't have to add ginger and chives to your rice. I did because I happen to have a lot of ginger around my place, and chives are growing wild on my street. You could add anything you have to the rice--parsley and lime juice, for instance. Or just leave it plain.

*If you don't have yougurt for the sauce, you could use heavy cream or half-and-half instead.

*I'm eating mine with a nice iced Ceylon black tea.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Cooking for one advice--eat like an Italian peasant

See, I told you I'd be back! Coming to you tonight with my second installment of cooking for one, and my advice this time is simple--make a pot of beans.

Beans are the solo-cook's best friend. They are cheap--less than $3 for a whole pound of them--and they can be reincarnated in many, many ways. At first, cooking beans might seem like a hassle, and not all that quick. But I promise--once your beans are ready, they can become a meal in no time (for many nights of the week).

Here's what you'll need to do:

Buy a 1 lb. bag of cannelini of great northern beans (white beans).

Put the beans in a large pot, cover with water, and soak overnight.

The next day, make sure there is enough water in the pot (should be 3x as much as the beans). Add a few tablespoons of olive oil. If you have them, throw in some whole peppercorns, a sprig of thyme (or sage or rosemary), and a whole bulb of garlic, with about a 1/2 inch cut off the top to expose the cloves. DO NOT ADD SALT. (Note: I understand that you may not have pepper, herbs, and garlic on hand. Don't worry. These items aren't necessary, but they do add subtle flavor to your beans)

Over high heat, bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer at least 1 1/ hours, or until beans are tender.

NOW you can salt.

Ok, the hard part is over. Although this process has taken several hours, it really only requires a few minutes of hands on time, and now you have a whole pot of building blocks for various recipes.

Note: When you drain the beans, you might want to save the cooking liquid, which can serve as a nice broth in bean recipes. Also, save the garlic! You now have a whole head of soft, fragrant garlic which can be used in a number of ways (for example, mashed into a white bean hummus).

Here's one idea for how to use your beans:

Beans and greens, a classic Tuscan combination. Rip up pieces of kale and saute in olive oil until it wilts--won't take long! You can add a little water if you want it to cook more. Mix kale with some of your beans and sprinkle with crushed red pepper and Parmesan. Yum.

The main lesson of this cooking-for-one installment is that sometimes taking a little extra time, can actually save you time in the long run! Don't be afraid to try a pot of beans. My dad did this all the time in his bachelor days!

Your pot of beans will last all week in the refrigerator. For more ideas, look here:

White beans with sausage and tomatoes

White beans with tuna and red onion

White bean and asparagus salad

What I've been up to

So I've been a little silent on the blogosphere lately, due to the fact that my mom and Harry were home for awhile. I spend my time playing board games and not writing. Also not cooking for one! It was great to share some meals with my family. Here's a little peek at what I was up to:

Meal #1: The Lobster Dinner

This was my birthday present to Harry. When I asked him what he wanted for his birthday, he said "How about a lobster dinner?" Well, that sounded just great to me! So I bought three live lobsters and threw them in a pot of boiling water! This was my first time making lobster, so I wasn't feeling super ambitious. I also had just spent 8 hours that day cooking soup for 80. Next time I make lobster, I hope to try something new. My goal is to kill the lobster myself by stabbing its head with a knife, then cutting it in half to grill. But the boiling method worked just fine for a first go, and the lobster went very well with the rest of the meal--sauteed broccoli and polenta with red pepper sauce. And we even drank some Prosecco, Italy's answer to Champagne. Yum.

Meal #2: Feast for TWO!

You may remember my feast for one post, and this meal grew in a similar fashion, and it was for two this time--my mom and me. Italian inspiration this time around. Front and center is fettuccine carbonara, the classic "eggs and bacon" pasta dish, which is just ridiculously delicious. Also super fast to make. It's done in the time it takes to fry bacon and cook pasta. Look up a recipe if you're ever wondering what to make for dinner. And you can totally throw some asparagus in if you want to get veggies in you. Then an artichoke. Normally we just steam them, and that's what I did, but I stuffed the leaves with lemon peel and garlic ahead of time, which added that little something extra. And sticking out of those blue glasses in the back are kale chips, which sound weird, but are the most. delcious. thing. ever. If you ever happen to stumble across some lacinato kale (also called Tuscan or dino kale), buy it up, and make these chips. They are fool-proof, and you won't regret it. Here's what to do:

Preheat oven to 250.

Spread kale leaves on a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Put kale in preheated oven and bake 20-30 minutes until leaves are crisp.

That's it. You'll love them.

And that's it for me for now. But don't worry, I'll be back--because now I'm back to cooking for one!