Sunday, May 31, 2015

Spaghetti with Onions

The husband and I have wonderfully different palates, and this recipe proved it. 

While watching—yet another—baseball game one night after work, we quickly made up this dish. Sure, you need a little patience as you will want to cook the onions on a low heat for a long time (say 15 minutes or so) to give them that lovely, sweet flavor rather than the usual strong and piquant flavor they normally have when raw. But, a little bit after you have begun the onions’ frying, you can make up the spaghetti, and by the time the spaghetti is done, you’re ready to finish the sauce. The milk will curdle, and the recipe will hold your hand, telling you not to worry. This is a perfect, economical, Thursday-night meal filled with those ingredients you have on hand all around the house, and you don't have to miss the first inning of the game. 

We settled into our spots, forks and napkins at the ready, added our salt, pepper, and cheese, and proceeded to watch Hunter Pence and Buster Posey and (my personal favorite) Angel Pagan win another game (for our beloved Giants are out of that horrid, cretinous April slump that made me think maybe this year the Giants would come in lower than my equally-beloved Cubs (who are only 6.5 games out as of this writing!)). Unable to finish my bowl of pasta, I traded my remaining noodles for the husband’s empty bowl to place in front of me.

He did a taste test of my remaining noodles and declared that it turns out that I like a lot more pepper and cheese. He likes a lot more salt. I like my pasta to inch closer to my adored Italian favorite cacio e pepe, while he likes his to taste like a salt lick.

There you have it.

This easy dinner makes it simple for both of us to dress up a tasty pasta dish just to our own liking. And clearly my liking is right and his is wrong.

Spaghetti with Onions
(This cookbook holds a special place in my heart as it was one of the first cookbooks I owned in that five bedroom house that I rented with friends in the Avenues of Salt Lake City.)

2 Servings

2 large onions
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp ground fennel
1/2 lb spaghetti
1 cup skim milk
1 cup canned tomatoes, crushed or coarsely chopped (8-ounce can)
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese to serve
Parsley, for garnish

1.  Slice off the ends of the onions. Cut each onion in half lengthwise and remove the peel.  Slice in half lengthwise into strips.

2.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

3.  While the water heats, pour the oil into a large skillet or wide soup pot and add the onions and fennel, if using.  Saute, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.

4.  Cook the spaghetti in the boiling water for just five minutes.

5.  Meanwhile, add the milk and tomatoes to the onions.  The milk will curdle, but don't worry. Cover and gently simmer.

6.  When the spaghetti has cooked exactly 5 minutes, drain it and add it immediately to the onion mixture. Simmer the spaghetti in the sauce for about 5 minutes, stirring constantly, until the pasta is al dente and the sauce is smooth. Drizzle in a little more milk if the sauce becomes too stiff. Add the salt and pepper and parmesan cheese to taste. Sprinkle on a pinch of parsley with each serving. Serve immediately.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Kela Raita

When it came time to make another recipe (this one from page 215) from this well-loved cookbook from one of our favorite Indian restaurants in the Bay Area, I’ll admit, I was a little disappointed that my option was Kela Raita. Keep in mind, I knew nothing about kela raita and clearly my ignorance about Indian cuisine was about to shine through.

I was just disappointed. The recipe did not appear to have flash or pizzazz. (I like a little flash and pizzazz). It threatened to be sweet (what, with the banana). And it presented itself as just boring old yogurt and banana. It hardly seemed worth mentioning in an individual blogpost.

I like I said: I knew nothing.

But I love raita, that thick yogurt side dish that could be a condiment, could be a salad, could be a dip. Raita helps temper the tongue-searing effects of curries, and I love the spiciness of the toasted cumin and black mustard seeds present in all raitas, so what was my problem?

Mostly, it’s that I don’t particularly care for bananas in things. Oh, I love bananas in general, especially if they are slightly under-ripe and not so sweet; I have even been known to throw banana into a fruit salad, one might even say, with a sense of abandon. Sure, they’re the base of many a smoothie in these here parts, but you can’t really taste them once I throw in the kale and the strawberries and the almond milk.

But I don’t like banana cream pie, I am not a fan of banana pudding, and don’t even talk to me about banana bread. Something about the cloying sweetness of bananas with their own muted creaminess just doesn’t fit my palate. I just didn’t think I would like it much in a raita.

But I was wrong, so wrong.

I was well rewarded by the spiciness of the mustard seeds, the unctuousness of the oil, the slight sweetness of the banana, and the creaminess of the yogurt. I was reminded again that I am an ignorant fool.

You can make this raita as thick as you please—the more fat in the yogurt, the creamier your side dish. You could even drain the yogurt in a fine-mesh sieve to achieve thicker yogurt before adding all of your goodies.

Or you can just skip that entirely in order to get the raita to your table as soon as possible.

Which is what we did.

And let’s be clear: there was no raita left at the end of the meal.


Kela Raita

Adapted from  Ajanta Cookbook

8-10 servings

1tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons black mustard seeds
1 dry red chile pepper, cut to pieces no larger than 1/4 inch
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1 banana, peeled and cut into 1/4-to1/2-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground, toasted cumin

1.  Heat oil in a 4-quart saucepan.  When hot, add mustard seeds and red chile pepper.  The oil sould be hot enough that mustard seeds pop.  Turn the heat off as soon as mustard seeds stop popping, about 5-10 seconds.

2.  Mix the remaining ingredients except cumin and stir well to incorporate.

3.  Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle cumin on top.

3.  Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour and serve cold.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Rum and Raisin Brownies

Memorial Day calls for an easy dessert after a dinner of husband-smoked pork ribs and an in-law-constructed glorious eggplant dish (from Ottolenghi’s Plenty, no less). Thus, it was the perfect time to trot out Donna Hay’s cookbook Flavours. As I have mentioned before (and before and before), I am a fan of Australia’s Ms. Hay, as her recipes are simple and easy to execute. There is nothing fancy or flashy about her work, but it is always tasty enough to serve to guests and easy enough for a weeknight meal.

Memorial Day was overcast and foggy up in Fort Bragg—the perfect kind of day for me, although others were disappointed that the fog didn’t lift and we were left eating indoors rather than out in the garden. However, the fog is the perfect vehicle for a morning spent grading and cooking and an early afternoon spent jogging by the beach while the husband grilled ribs and at one point seemed to be washing the side of the house with a long handled brush. To each his own.

I loved being at the beach, though, this weekend. The smell was that comforting but slightly grotesque aroma of rot and sand and sea. Clearly the tide had left behind a slew of tiny crab carcasses, and the birds were out in abundance picking through the bounty. However, said bounty left behind a heady, salty smell that took quite a few breaths to get used to. But locals and tourists alike were walking the beach with their dogs (some dogs in owners' arms, as was one short-legged dachshund who had gotten pooped out long before its companion Labrador mutt had), a gaggle of prepubescent and shirtless boys were playing baseball in a protected cove (despite the cold wind), and even I was playing in the sand. I’ll admit to two cartwheels, both of which solidified the fact that it has been years since I have done two cartwheels. The fog hung low enough to block the view of the cliffs that drop into the sea, but what view there was announced itself as beautiful, closed in and loud with surf. Oh!

Upon return, I showered and then settled in for a glass of wine before guests arrived. Quietly and skittishly, a red and grey fox trotted up to the porch and peered in the door, too quick to be captured by the camera. These are hardly the makings of a traditional barbeque, but certainly the makings of a memorable one.

These brownies with little taste bombs of raisins soaked in rum were a fine, simple way to end the meal. In reality, I thought the rum could have come through a little stronger. Perhaps a dark or a spiced rum next time? Maybe soak them overnight in the rum rather than quick cook them? However, the combination of rum, raisins, and chocolate is always a good one—nay perhaps even a perfect one following such a lovely day.


Rum and Raisin Brownies

Adapted from  Donna Hay's Flavours

12-16 brownies 

3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup (6 fluid ounces) light rum
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp cocoa powder
¼ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
6.5 ounces butter
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
2 cups sugar
4 eggs

1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare an 8-inch square cake pan with cooking spray. 

2.  Place the raisins and the rum in a saucepan over low heat and simmer until almost all of the rum has been absorbed.  Set aside to cool.

3.  Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.  Set aside.

3.  Place the butter and chocolate in a saucepan (double boiler preferable, but a saucepan is fine in a pinch) over low heat and stir until smooth.  Add the sugar and stir until smooth again.  Place the chocolate mixture in a large bowl and add the eggs, mixing thoroughly until each is incorporated. Then add the flour mixture until combined. Then slowly fold in the rum-raisin mixture.

4.  Pour the chocolate batter into the prepared pan, and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until set.  Cool completely before cutting into squares to serve.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Beet Salad with Orange and Pine Nuts

It’s baseball season. The time for hotdogs and beer. Nachos. Maybe even hot chocolate (hey, it’s San Francisco: more often than not, a night game when the fog rolls in requires hot chocolate, a hat and gloves, maybe even a blanket). I do not eschew such pleasures, especially in the summer. But to balance such indulgences, the regular days of my life need food that’s a little lighter, a bit more aware of its composition and construction, a fraction healthier. This is where Sarah Britton’s new cookbook, My New Roots steps in.

I’ll admit, this cookbook is not for everyone, what, with its “cheese” made from cashews, “bacon” made from coconut, “scallops” made from leeks, and “tuna” made from sunflower seeds. I avoid substitutions on principle (if I want tuna, I eat tuna; I don’t substitute it with sunflower seeds.  That said, I’ll admit, I plan to just put actual tuna atop her recipe for pan bagnat with dill, spring onions, capers, cucumber and sprouts because, lordy, that sandwich just looks so good in the book).

But don’t let the Britton’s substitution recipes stop you from snagging this pretty little book, for she also includes recipes for roasted red pepper walnut dip, oyster mushroom bisque, apricot rhubarb clafoutis, cornmeal pancakes with gingered plum compote, fig and buckwheat breakfast tart (which has the prettiest picture in the whole book), and ginger-rosemary roasted grapefruit. I highly suspect that this book will prove handy as we try to eat through our weekly CSA box.

Which is precisely what we did when presented with two bunches of beets recently.

Earthy and acidic, this beet salad, which Britton entitled “Beet Party with Orange and Pine Nuts,” is quite delightful, for it has the elements of a satisfying dish (especially with a crumble of goat cheese across the top) and the fundamentals of sensible eating (no unidentifiable ingredients, which cannot be said of my ballgame hotdogs).

Britton also argues it has the rudiments of a palate-pleasing party with all of its textures and flavors, and I would have to agree. She adds raw beets to this salad, which added a pleasing crunch next to the chewy lentils and the velvety roasted beets.

Britton soaks the lentils overnight, which I generally don’t do; however, said pre-soaking shaved oodles of time off of this recipe, especially since I roasted the beets the night before as well. All that was left to do come dinnertime was to cook the lentils and to make the dressing. This recipe lasted a while, too, for what was last night’s dinner became today’s lunch. 

It’s one of those recipes from a book that that proves a necessity for the committed health-food eater and guarantees to be a fine addition to the cookbook shelf for those of us who like an occasional hotdog but then need to rebalance the basics.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.


Beet Salad with Orange and Pine Nuts

Serves 4

½ cup black lentils, soaked overnight, if possible
6 beets (about 2 pounds) *red, golden, Chioggia, white are all fine
¼ cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. orange juice
2 tsp. honey
Grated zest of 2 oranges
½ cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Salt and fresh pepper
4 ounces goat cheese, optional

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Wrap 4 beets in aluminum foil and put them on a baking sheet. Roast the beets until they are cooked, about 35-50 minutes depending on the size of the beets. Remove from the oven, let them sit in their foil for about 15 minutes, and when cool enough to handle, unwrap the foil and slide the skins off the beets. Chop the beets into bite-size pieces, and add them to a large bowl.

3. Drain and rinse the lentils, put them in a saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until tender but not mushy, about 10-20 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Add them to the cooked beets.

4. With a vegetable peeler, peel the remaining 2 beets. Using a mandolin or a sharp knife, slice the beets into thin rounds. Then slice the rounds crosswise to make matchsticks. Add the raw beets to the lentils and roasted beets.

5. Whisk the olive oil, vinegar, orange juice, honey, and a pinch of salt together in a small bowl, and pour this over the salad. Add the orange zest, chopped parsley, pine nuts, and season with salt and pepper. If using the cheese, sprinkle it on at the very end, and do not mix (for the beets will stain the cheese pink).