Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Halibut with tomato-curry cream (Machhli Tamatar)

It always pleases me when I fiddle around with ingredients and find out that it's already a Thing. The curried fish with tomatoes and creamy sauce I was thinking about turned out to be the Indian dish machhli tamatar, fancy that. I've been craving Indian spices - anise, cinnamon, fenugreek, ginger - all traditionally used medicinally for stimulating the appetite and aiding digestion. Plus, I'd picked up some amazing young ginger and fresh turmeric at the Asian grocery over the weekend, and was eager to use it. The halibut at New Seasons looked good, and I had a half pint of cherry tomatoes left in the coffers.

I carved out a curry paste from fresh curry leaves (in the freezer), a garlic clove, grated ginger and turmeric, mustard and fenugreek seeds, dhana jeera (a ground cumin and coriander blend), a little of my homemade seven-spice and a squirt of lemon juice (pound the shit out of it in the mortar and pestle until a paste forms). I smeared this into salted and peppered halibut fillets and let it marinate for a bit while I got the rice cooking.

I melted some butter and olive oil (instead of ghee) in a hot pan and tossed in sliced onions and the cherry tomatoes (halved). They hissed and sputtered for a bit, then in went the fish. After I flipped the fish (5 minutes or so) I added the tub's last couple of tablespoons of crème fraîche. I think it's more traditional to use yogurt and cream, but I didn't have those and besides, crème fraîche is just another cultured cream product and this worked really well. Top the fish with micro-cilantro from the garden.

I also whipped up a quick chutney of mango, red chili and golden raisins (add a pinch of garam masala or seven-spice, plus a drib of lemon juice and honey) and this was refreshing with some warm naan.

Serve with peppermint sweet tea and basmati rice.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Strawberry Shortstack

I can't seem to get enough strawberries these days. I cruised through 4 lbs of them in about a week, just eating them raw (stemmed and halved, with my fingers), and then had to pick up another flat of them over the weekend. It's insidious. I never was a real big fruit eater until recently. I guess I always felt like fruit was a little too on-the-nose. "Oh, you're so sweet and delicious, fruit." It's like, we get it. I usually opted instead for vegetables, which are under-appreciated and therefore have way more street cred.

Berries are great, though (no doy). They're kind of tart, loaded with Vitamin C and other antioxidants, and are low in calories. And they make an excellent frou-frou breakfast of strawberry shortcake. In pancake form.

I whipped up a batch of basic buttermilk pancakes, adding a scant tablespoon of crème fraîche for a bit of twang (add a little extra sugar to the batter to offset this). I made a quick strawberry compote by stemming and halving about 2 cups of strawberries and simmering them in about a half cup of sugar, a tablespoon of butter and 3 tablespoons of kirschwasser.

Top with fresh vanilla whipped cream (do this yourself - it's worth it), and since you aren't drinking mimosas these days have a nice bubbly apple cider with a splash of mango nectar (float a strawberry in there for show).

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Frito Pie

My southern friends know this little beaut from their moms, aunts and grandmas, from Baptist church lady potlucks, from friends' house dinners. This, my Yankee friends, is Frito pie.

It is exactly as complicated as it sounds - chili on Fritos. Other accoutrements are optional. I made my own chili by browning some ground turkey with onions and garlic, added copious cumin, chili powder and paprika, then tossed in a can of chili beans (the kind that come in a tomato-based sauce). Layer a casserole (preferably the one your grandma purchased in the 70s with Green Stamps, then bequeathed to you upon her passing) with Fritos, then pour the chili over, add a little grated cheese, more Fritos, more cheese. Into a hot oven until the cheese melts. Total phone-in.

Since I wanted extra crunch (two kinds of crunch always being better than one), I spooned my Frito pie over some iceberg lettuce and topped it with sour cream and a julienne of radishes and those spicy carrots from the jar of jalapeños en escabeche. This way you've got the whole city mouse/country mouse thing, all in one bowl.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Rigatoni Bolognese with olives and chiles

It's been so hard to muster the energy or interest to cook, what with fatigue and nausea running the show. Pasta with red sauce seems to be accepted without a hitch, and requires nearly no effort, particularly when I have one last, treasured jar of homemade Bolognese from the homegrown heirloom tomatoes of last summer, canned with homeground beef chuck and fresh herbs. This last jar of sunshine was the end of an era.

This bastard lovechild between puttanesca ("the whore's") and Bolognese came from my need to taste red sauce with a little bit of saline fattiness of olives and the protein punch of beef. Chile flake (Korean, for flavor in addition to moderate heat) kicked it to a high hum.

Lots of grated parmesan and crusty bread to swab out the last smear of sauce is a no-brainer.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Orecchiette with pancetta, asparagus, peas and lemon balm

It's so good to be back in my kitchen, I can't even tell you. After the nettle dinner (those 24 things are so much work!) I was in the dry, dusty field for a week (botanical surveys in the western Central Valley, California), and spent the weekend alternately recovering on the couch with my feet up and the remote control ruthlessly cutting commercials from Tivo'ed programs, or playing Rune Factory Frontier, or turning and seeding my warming vegetable beds. Even though it was inspirationally gorgeous out, I didn't really feel like cooking. Not one whit.

The funny thing about being pregnant is that every two hours you are starving. Your blood sugar drops so fast that you simultaneously want to puke and faint. But as famished as I feel, when I finally get around to getting some food in front of me, I can only muster a few bites before I am completely stuffed. Baffled then, am I, that I am gaining weight so quickly. I've been putting on almost a pound a week since I found out. It's going straight to my belly, upper arms and tits, which are rapidly transforming into jugs (I can't stop staring at them, which is probably why I can see them growing before my very eyes).

But holy shit, this is so not about me. This is about the simple flavors of springtime, about the vernal Holy Trinity (peas, asparagus and ham), about meals that are free of fetter and hamper. In the time it takes to boil water and cook pasta you can have, in your very mouth, a perfect balance of crunchy, sweet, virid, salty, fatty, bright and creamy. Yes, all in one bite.

While you're waiting for water to boil, string about a half pound of peas and peel the stems of a small bunch of asparagus. Slice these coarsely on the bias into bite-sized chunks. Mince a shallot and three cloves of garlic finely. Chop about a quarter pound of pancetta. Your water is nigh at a boil, so add a fat pinch of kosher salt and dump in nearly an entire pound of orecchiette (leave about a cup in the bag for another time, this'll still be enough for leftovers).

While the pasta is cooking, render the pancetta in a drizzle of olive oil, and add the shallot and garlic. When the pancetta starts to go crisp and the shallots begin to turn golden, add the peas and asparagus and cook over medium or so, lazily stirring things about with a wooden spoon because it feels so good to hold that spoon (the one with burn marks up the handle from setting it against a hot pan too long, too many times). Salt and pepper things a bit for good measure, and while you're at it, go ahead and scrape in some lemon zest. Have a bright idea to go pick some lemon balm, since the sunny weather has started it aflush near the little pond out back. Chiffonade that lemon balm and pick some thyme off the tender stems.

Drain the pasta and dump the vegetables and pancetta in, swabbing out the bacon grease with a spoonful of pasta. Since it still could use a little something, why not stir in a knob of good cultured butter and maybe a scant tablespoon of crème fraîche. Stir in the sliced lemon balm and picked thyme, and grate in some grainy Parmesan.

Be so happy that you can eat more than a few bites because this is exactly, exactly what you wanted.