Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cookbook #38: Great Good Food

Adapted from Cookbook #38:  Great Good Food

Recipe:  Catfish with Black Bean Salsa

My grandfather died when I was in college--I was away and I didn't return to my hometown for the funeral.  But I remember him well: the cans of Budweiser, the little white house, the tacky bronze fountain with a naked woman in it in his living room, and the fish cook outs.  He had a fishing shack in a small town on the Mississippi River and from time to time he would take my brother and me fishing with him.  I don't particularly remember liking fishing, but I certainly appreciated all of the accessories.  For my birthday, I was gifted a fishing rod, and I had a fishing hat onto which I could hook my tackle.  In the garage I kept a small orange tackle box with fifteen little compartments into which I could put my fancy jiggling lures or my plain sinkers.  I would sometimes pull it down from the shelf above my father's work bench, and I would line up all of my lures in row, counting them, admiring their rainbow colors. My brother had a bigger, far more spectacular tackle box, with a hinged shelf that would flip open when he lifted the lid.  I envied him.

During the summer, Grandpa would hold fish fries in the backyard, and the grandkids would hang off his arm as he tried to shoo us away as he dropped bluegills and catfish into a drum bubbling with hot oil.  It was the 80s.  Children and hot oil mixed.  We grew tired of listening to the adults talk as they sat in their lawn chairs and smoked their cigarettes, and we would run around the backyard, dodging badminton birdies and the errant lawn dart thrown by the older grandkids.

This recipe is hardly a fish fry.  Grandpa would have cursed the black bean salsa.  He would have laughed off the baking of the fish rather than its frying.  But I did use catfish, and I thought of him.

This is a simple, easy way to bring more fish into your life.  Given the hoopla about omega-3 fatty acid and fish oil, bringing more fish into your life is a good thing.  The salsa is simple and easy to make--it would be a fine salsa to have with tortilla chips or with a sauteed chicken breast.

Julee Rosso, the cookbook author,  is the co-owner of The Silver Palate--the gourmet food shop and eventually the cook book series.  All in all, the recipe is representative of the rest of the cookbook.  Nothing that will knock your socks off--just basic, good recipes that work for weeknights. And a wonderful way to remember my Grandpa.  I miss him.

Serves 4

1-1/2 cups diced tomato
1 cup cooked black beans
3/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 jalapeno pepper, finely minced
Salt and Pepper
2 pounds fresh fish (catfish, snapper, cod)
3 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice
Grated zest of 2 lemons or limes

1.In  medium-size mixing bowl, combine the tomato, black beans, cilantro, vinegar, jalapeno, and salt and pepper (to taste).  Mix well.  Set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice.

2.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

3.  Place each fish fillet on a piece of aluminum foil large enough to enclose it.  Sprinkle each fillet with citrus (lemon or lime) juice and zest.  Season with pepper to taste.

4. Close the packages by folding the foil over the fish and tightly sealing the edges.  Back for 25 to 35 minutes, until the fish is opaque and flakes when pierced with a fork.

5.  Serve with a generous portion of salsa.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Cookbook #37: Bread: From Sourdough to Rye

Adapted from Cookbook #37:  Bread: From Sourdough to Rye  (2005)

Recipe:  Masala Dosa with Spicy Potatoes and Spinach
--> Well, that didn't work out so well.  It's been a while since we have had a failure, and last night we had one.

Dosa is an astonishing Southern Indian pancake/flatbread made from a fermented batter of rice and dhal. It's India's version of the Crepe!  I love the Crepe! See here and here.  Rich in carbohydrates and protein, unfilled dosa are eaten with a fresh, moist coconut chutney for breakfast.  But for a full meal, just add spicy potatoes or spinach or both.  This is a meal I can get behind.

However, dinner didn't quite go like that for me.

Two nights ago, I soaked the rice and dhal.  The next morning I ground them up and set them atop the stove for a 12-hour fermentation.  I came home about ten hours later and noticed the batter wasn't bubbly enough, so I turned on the stove to 200, but left the bowl on the counter.  The kitchen heated up a little, and by the time I came back to the batter two hours later, we had full bubble.   All signs pointed to success.  I heated the griddle.  I poured my first dosa.

It was a failure.

But the first pancake is always a failure, so I was not daunted.  I scraped that one off, let it cool, and snacked on the pieces as I poured the second one. And oh, those pieces tasted so good, so perfectly dosa-like.  I couldn't wait to eat a fully-formed dosa filled to the brim with spinach and potato masala.  Last night's dinner was going to be oh so good.

So I stood at the stove, waiting.  Second dosa was cooking.  But then... failure.  Another half formed, lumpy pancake that flopped to a mass of goo when I tried to lift it.  What? How could this be happening?  Once again, I scraped it off.  This time I didn't eat the pieces.

So I called in the big guns.  The husband.  He has a patience I do not understand.  Often when something goes awry in the kitchen, it is because I have no patience (yeah, latkes are not easy for me.  You have to wait.  They will become yummy goodness, but you have to be PATIENT).  So I thought this was merely a matter of me being too antsy with the dosa.  And as you can see, nope.  Even in the hands of a master, still the pancake ended up a mess.

Something seemed to be amiss with the batter.  Was it my dhal?  Maybe we didn't get the right kind?  Was it the proportions?  Too much rice?  Too much dhal?  Too much water?  I am not sure.  However, I know I want to try this again, because, oh the deliciousness of the bread, people!  But here's a link and another for other dosas.  Maybe these recipes will bring better luck.  But they don't look all that different from the recipe below.  If yours turn out better, please tell me the secret.

In the end, I did have a fantastic bowl of potatoes and spinach masala.  The whole mustard seeds and cumin seeds were amazing, and there was a bit of heat because of the red pepper.  So all was not lost. 

I haven't had many failures here on Page 210.  Since I have been away for so long (school started, birthday happened), this was a somewhat uninspiring return.  I hope to  have a couple more fantastic recipes for you by the end of the week (I am a week behind now).

In the mean time, I am sticking to take out Indian food.

Makes about 10 dosa, serves about 4-6

Scant 3/4 cup basmati rice
Scant 1/2 cup urid dhal (white Indian lentils without skins)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
peanut or sunflower oil

Spicy Potato Filling
2 tablespoons ghee or peanut oil
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 medium-hot green chile, such as serrano, or to taste, seeded and thinly sliced
Pinch of ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 lb. large baking potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
4 cups trimmed spinach leaves
Salt and Pepper, to taste

To Make the Dosa
1. Start the batter the day before serving.  Parboil the rice in enough water to cover it generously until the grains are still firm in center, about 4-5 minutes.  Drain well, then let cool.

2.  Put the parboiled rice into a measuring cup to calculate its volume, then tip into a large bowl.  Stir in twice its volume of cold water (about 3 cups), cover, and let soak overnight.

3.  Put the dhal into another bowl, cover with 1 cup cold water, and let soak overnight.

4.  Next morning, drain the rice.  Put it into a food processor and blend for 1 minute.  Slowly add 1/2 cup cold water to make a smooth paste.  Put the rice batter in a large bowl.

5.  Rise out the processor owl, then add the drained dhal and process as before, adding about 2-5 tablespoons cold water to make a smooth paste.  Add to the rice batter and stir.

6.  Add the salt and cumin, then cover the bowl with a dry cloth and let ferment at room temperature for about 12 hours.  The batter is well fermented when it has become a mass of bubbles.

7.  When ready to cook, stir enough water to make a medium-thick pouring consistency, like pancake batter.

8.  Heat a griddle pan until very hot.  Lightly grease with half an onion or a piece of paper towel dipped in oil.  Pour a spoonful of batter onto the hot surface, then use the back of the spoon to spread it with a thin spiral motion, much like you would a crepe.  Brush a little extra oil onto the edges of the dosa, and cook until the base is crisp and golden.

9.  Using a long flexible spatula, lift off the dosa.

To Make the Filling
1.  Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet.  Add the whole spices and cook for 1 minute until the mustard seeds start to pop.  Stir in the fresh chile and the ground spices and stir for 1 minute.

2.  Add the potatoes to the skillet.  Stir well to coat in the spices; then lower the heat, cover with lid, and cook gently, stirring frequently, until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, rinse the spinach ad shake off the excess water; then put into a large, dry saucepan and cook, stirring frequently, in its own steam over medium heat until wilted.  Drain thoroughly then chop coarsely.

4.  Uncover the potatoes and turn up the heat.  Stirring frequently, cook for a few minutes until starting brown, then stir in the spinach and salt to taste.

5.  Spoon some of the filling onto the dosa, and wrap each dosa individually.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Cookbook # 36: Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen

Adapted from Cookbook #36 :  Rick Bayless's Mexican Kitchen  (1996)

Recipe:  Tamal de Cazuela (Crusty Baked Tamal)

Every Christmas, one of the husband's fathers* hosts a small tamalada.  These tamale-making-parties carry on New World traditions, and our annual gathering is a nod to the husband's father's Mexican-by-way-of-Oklahoma heritage.  Labor-intensive and best conducted with many hands and pitchers of margaritas or sangria, this get-together often leaves us feeling a little sick because not only do we devour a good deal of the filling before we mold masa around it, we also eat way too many of the cooked tamales (particularly the tomatillo-chicken ones).  At the end of the night, we haul home oodles of them (leaving twice as many behind with the parental hosts), and those tamales that we don't immediately consume in the next week we put in the freezer to be pulled out for a March tamal or two or ten.

While it would feel strange to have a tamalada any other time of the year, one still hankers for those sublime morsels of chicken-wrapped-in-masa.  Once the reserves run out, we have to resort to other measures.  This recipe is our own Christmas in September, allowing us to use big, beautiful tomatoes fresh from the CSA box.  Plus, we don't have to do all the work of individually wrapping the tamales in corn husks.  Definitely a bonus.

Our cookbook author and guide this evening, Rick Bayless, also hails from Oklahoma.  It seems we have a triumvirate of Oklahoma associations.  Rick Bayless, the husband's father, and me.  While Illinois was home for 12 years (also where you can find Bayless's restaurant Frontera Grill), I was born in Oklahoma.  I remember nothing of it, as we moved well before I saw the close of my first month.  But I like that I was born in the town that has associations with The Grapes of Wrath--Tom Joad was released from Big Mac before embarking on his California quest.  (To boot, I am teaching Grapes with a dear friend of mine this spring).  For Oklahomans who learn where I was born, I often have to explain that no, my family had no connections to the state penitentiary, but I do get to claim the Sooner State as the motherland.

Oops, sorry.  Rick Bayless.  Let's focus here.  Bayless is no Diana Kennedy, whom we will get to later in the year.  But he's the next best (and Americanized) thing.   After doing doctoral work in anthropological linguistics at the University of Michigan, Bayless spent six years in Mexico gathering material for his first cookbook, Authentic Mexican:  Regional Cooking from the Heart of Mexico.  Not bad, seeing as the book is enjoying a 20th-anniversary resurgence.  Further, Bayless is the Alice Waters of the Midwest, with his Frontera Farmer Foundation, a nonprofit committed to small, sustainable farms in the Chicago area.  These are causes--authentic Mexican cuisine and sustainable farming--that I can get behind.

 The tamal is tasty and filling (it is made with rendered pork fat, people), and it did inspire me to buy some Christmas music on I-tunes.  (I am not allowed to listen to it until the day after Thanksgiving, but I might sneak in a listen or two while I am at work.)

Finally, there were two downsides to tonight's dinner:  (1)  I didn't make seven gallons of the mole to eat on everything (seriously, think pouring it on enchiladas, pork, rice, beans, chicken, beef, shoe leather. This mole is that good.)  And (2) we didn't consume it before going to see Green Day, who are sold out at Shoreline tonight.

Merry Christmas!

*The husband has two fathers, three step-mothers, and one mother.  It took a village to raise that boy.

Serves 8 as a first course, 4-5 as a casual main dish

6 ounces (about 3/4 cup) rich-tasting lard, chilled
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 pounds (about 3 cups) cool, coarse ground masa or masa harina mixed with 1-3/4 cup hot water
1 cup chicken broth
Salt, about 1 generous teaspoon
2-3 cups Coloradito (Brick-Red Mole), recipe follows
1 generous cup coarsely shredded, cooked chicken, pork, or beef

Preparing the Batter
1.  With an electric mixer, beat the lard with the baking powder in a large bowl until light in texture, about 1 minute.  Continue beating as you add the masa in three additions.  Slowly beat in a generous 3/4 cup of the broth.  Continue beating for another minute or so, until a 1/2 teaspoon dollop of the dough floats in a cup of cold water.

2.  Beat in enough additional broth to give the mixture consistency of soft (not runny) cake batter (it should hold its shape in a spoon).  Season with salt to taste.

Making the Tamal
1.  Turn on the oven to 400 degree.  Combine 3/4 cup of the sauce or mole with the shredded chicken or meat in a small dish.  Spread half of the batter into a greased 10-inch pie plate.  Spoon the meat mixture evenly over the batter; then spoon on the remaining batter to cover the filling.

2.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Then reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees.  Cover the top of tamal lightly with foil and continue baking until the center springs back when pressed lightly and the top is golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Let stand for a few minutes before cutting into wedges and serving with a spoon or two of the remaining sauce. 

Variation:  Layer wild mushrooms, wilted greens, olives, arugula, sun-dried tomatoes, or fresh herbs in the pie. 

Coloradito (Red-Brick Mole)
3 Cups

6 medium dried ancho chiles, stemmed  (leave the seeds in for more heat if you prefer)
3 medium guajillo chiles, stemmed  (leave the seeds in for more heat if you prefer)
6 ounces ripe tomatoes (2 medium)
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon fresh oregano
3 tablespoons unsweetened chocolate (3/4 ounce)
3 cups chicken broth, divided
1 teaspoon sugar

1.  In an ungreased and heavy skillet heated over medium, toast the chiles a few at a time.  In a medium-sized bowl, cover the chiles with hot water and let rehydrate for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure even soaking.  Drain and discard the water.

2.  While the chiles are soaking, roast the tomatoes under the broiler, about 10 minutes.  Flip, using tongs, about half way through.  Cool slightly, then peel the skin, reserving juices.

3.  In a 350 degree oven roast the garlic, about 15 minutes.  Cool slightly, then peel the skin.

4.  In a skillet, toast the sesame seeds.

5.  Combine tomatoes, garlic, sesame seeds in a blender.  Add chiles, cinnamon, oregano, chocolate and 1-1/2 cups chicken broth.  Blend to a smooth puree, then press through a medium-mesh strainer into a small bowl.

6.  Heat the lard in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat.  When hot, add the strained puree all at once and stir for several minutes as it seas and thickens.  Stir in the other 1-1/2 cups chicken broth, partially cover, and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.  Taste and season highly with salt (usually about 1-1/2 teaspoons) and the sugar.