Saturday, October 31, 2009

Green Bean & Potato Curry

Green Bean/Potato Curry
Originally uploaded by kitchen geeking

So two meals cooked by me. One day. Shocker of a the month for sure. Sorry for the photo, I left the camera in the office (which, yes, I KNOW is technically only two blocks away).

That 'stuff' on top of that rice was the product of my grocery trip earlier this week when I picked up the potato and said "I will cook you;" the green bean and said "You will grace my plate;" and then got home and realized the garam masala Momma D brought back from India would be the gluey, masala-y good ness that, along with some onion, garlic, ginger, chicken stock, milk, butter, salt, pepper, oil, and rice...would bind the two together like a geek and a "duct tape is the force" joke.

And for you folks that are a'feared of "curry," know two things...1) E texted when she saw the picture of dinner and said it would go great with Bud Light Clamato; and 2) watch this typing happen.

That's rice. And green beans. And potatoes. And garlic. And... And... GRAVY. (Sorry Chez, making the point for the greater good).

It's not some bizarre concoction. You really only have to get your head around two things. Garam Masala, which is kinda like the spice mix your grandma put together for the mulled cider, only savory instead of sweet. And ginger, which I BET you're not that scared of since you've had ginger/peach something in your life.

But most folks from the part of the world I call home get that combination of sauce and starch with some sort of veg from garden or market. Honestly, throwin' a pan-fried pork chop on top of this and calling it Indian Chops n' Gravy on Rice would not offend me in the slightest. And there's pork chops with rice and gravy on truck stop menus all up and down I-81 in the Shenandoah...

You readers? You see the theme forming here? Yeah, from the Super Pollo and Ravi Kabob posts?

Here at Ravi I was struck by being able to same the same thing about the black-eyed pea. I've slow-cooked mine for years with a ham hock and garlic/onion. These guys were slow-cooking theirs with cardamom and coriander and the same garlic/onion mix. So much more that we have in common; because I have to believe that some Southern dude in fatigues and some Afghan dude away from home are both remembering long-simmered greens and stewed black-eyed peas. Not getting too far out there, just sayin' I bet it happens a lot.

And now here in my own kitchen?

So many similar comforts, textures, starch/sauce combinations. All over the world.

Fritata Riff in the Morning

Bacon & Crispy Shallot w/ Plum Tomatoes and Fontinella/Gruyere.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Too Long

16 days? No posts? Well, folks, I have excuses and reasons. But none of them explain away the lack of typing. I was sick but I cooked then and still know how to make a mean macaroni n' cheese. I traveled but great food happens on the road and I loved the Diwali celebration at Mother India last weekend. I bought new books to read but they're all about food, farming, and history (of food). Really I've just been lazy about writing. So we have esoterica tonight...

Esoterica in Print Form

I will miss reading this from time to time but it got me thinking about both cooking magazines and about traditional media in general. When I started this cooking madness I subscribed to and read four cooking magazines. I still have the subscriptions, and I still love them, but I don't know that I'd miss them as much as I would have if they had stopped publishing several years ago. I haven't had cable at home for four months now and I still have a modicum of knowledge about pop culture. Even though we don't have Gourmet anymore (and I think it's crap that Gourmet and it's million subscribers are screwed and Conde-friggin-Nast goes on), but we'll still talk about fine food and cooking.

Esoterica in Restaurants

I hit up B. Bistro in Bolton Hill last week for Ms. S's birthday shindig and was not disappointed in the least. Great wines, great people, great charcuterie. A frisee salad with lardons, a perfectly poached egg, crumbled tangy blue cheese, and a mustard vinaigrette. That dish, more than any other we had that night, was a classic bistro dish. Paris-style. Perfect. Add to that to pork belly entrĂ©e surrounded by Cassoulet-style white beans and covered in wet whole-grain mustard; and you’d have a happy food blogger. There were some misses, like the beet salad that was over-oiled and the fried-green tomatoes that sogged a bit because they were the bed for a whole fish. Our server was a nice’un, but it took him a while to get sorted out on the pacing of ‘please sir, bring us more wine.’ Then again, perhaps that says more about us than him. He did have to put up with a table of serious food whores on a random Wednesday night shift.

Esoterica in Signing-Off Form

So I leave you with this thought for a rainy night on the water. If you saute two shallots and three cloves of garlic in olive oil, add about 3 cups of sliced cremini mushrooms, start about a half pound of pasta to boil, add some spinach to the saute, throw the almost done noodles into the saute pan with a few ladles of the pasta water, put it on a plate and put parmesan cheese on'd have had dinner tonight too.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Fall Weekends - Soups and Eggs

A double-treat for you here, since I've already done the Lentil Soup recipe way back in my FIRST post ever two years ago this weekend. Not only two meals in one post, but a theme. That's right, we're goin' Meta on Sunday mornin'. I went there. You have that crap song stuck in your head. We'll all survive. Follow...

I have a collection of wonderful food memories that I didn't realize would be so important to me when I lived them. Isn't that always the case with time and memory. But looking back, these were always the memories of family I have had, and I didn't until recently put together that the meal was the focus.

I know now that there are four or five events or periods in my life that are the foundation of the cooking bug.

Sifting the flour and salt and baking powder for Date Nut bread when I was six or seven and chopping the potatoes, celery, carrots, and onion for the lentil soup when I was a little older.

The year I spent living with Mike and Craig my junior year when we had a real kitchen and cooked real meals (including the most inebriated bratwurst/sauerkraut dinner ever prepared by a German Studies Senior Housefellow in Conn history).

The first time I ever cooked a holiday meal for anyone (Hot Roomie #1 and I cookin' for her rents and broder Thanksgiving 2003).

The first time I ate foie and cabeza at the taquerias of Anaheim.

The best of times in places that hold magic. Remembering Uncle Paul giving the grace and Aunt Juanita passing me the lemonade. Playing in grandpa's roll-top desk while watermelons were sliced and sun-tea brewed on the back porch.

You get the picture. I think about family and friends and connections and places. And I remember them with great detail. And I remember the food. Not in a trite way that is simply a catalog of meals. That happens in the modern twitter-world, and I'm a part of that. But so long and I know there's more to it than that, I don't mind living in both places simultaneously.

So I remember peeling and slicing carrots. And potatoes. I probably asked what bay leaf was a time or two. There was always that one grocery trip when Mom would say the words that unlocked Fall. Real fall. "I need to get some lentils." Because there was only one reason we ever had lentils in our house growing up. There are more now, but this was the only time I recall as a kid. It was time to get to making a pot of lentil soup. Dad loved it, it was one of those recipes that Mom could do in her sleep and was flexible enough in its preparation that the intervening son, daughter, cat, or other house crisis would not impede its progress.

It was better the next day for breakfast, or lunch, or dinner, or all three. And there was almost never enough sausage bites in it. Like trying to make enough mashed potatoes for dinner on Saturday night so we could have potato pancakes for breakfast on Sunday. You just always had that last bowl of soup left that was essentially gravy and lentils with perhaps a stray chunk of carrot. I relish that bowl now, I was supremely disappointed in it as a surly 9-year-old.

I make it every year, usually twice a Fall/Winter. But it always seems to taste better the first time I make it in a new kitchen. Helps that I get to cook it in the Dutch Oven Mom bought for me for my birthday last year. Keeps the connection there.

And then there was Saturday breakfast. The first real glimpse of the weekend for the family. Friday night now, but then there were too many activities and tired-people at the end of the week and Friday was a 'out-to-eat night.' So we'd wake up on Saturday morning and, barring morning sports requirements and my parents 'I hated it then and realize its wisdom and benefit now' Play-a-Sport-a-Season rule, we'd have soft-boiled eggs on toast. Then this week the genius peeps over at Serious Eats wrote this marvel on eggs.

I've moved to poached as a favorite egg prep since those days, but there was a moment this morning when I was sitting at the old pine oblong table in the kitchen at the house on Citadel and there was a sauce pan of water still steaming and two eggs some rye toast on my plate. Mom and/or Dad sitting cracking there eggs with the back of a knife letting the yolk run over the bread and then scooping the white and adding a bit of pepper.

Recreated, I think because we both just remembered it so clearly, by Dad and I when I lived with him post-grad school. Saturday and Sunday mornings. Two bachelor roommates. Two eggs and some toast. Easy on the brain while you got your coffee on.

This time I baked the bread too. Joy of Cooking's quick white bread one-loaf recipe subbing the last cup of flour for whole wheat flour. I'm not sure I count myself a baker yet, but I'm getting the rhythm of the mix, knead, rise, knead, proof, roll, rise, bake.

I'll get that second-day bowl of soup with bread here in a minute before I head out to watch some football with a pal on his birthday. Might bake some mac n' cheese tonight to have options for the week at lunch.

I'm still facing a daunting list of chores to get through today after the trip to the b-day shindig, but at least I'm well fed in food and memory.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Ravi Kabob House

This post combines some of the best bits of always having food on the brain. A new restaurant that serves a strange and distant land's food and some of your favorite foodie peeps. First and foremost, we all wanted to go because CassiBob and I had never been and we've kinda gotten used to KarlJohn gettin' the lowdown on the righteous ethnic cuisine in the DC/NoVA tip. I've got the MD burbs and Bal'mer covered. Secondly, I have to admit to a not-surprising fascination with food grilled on sticks. And I wanted to see what was similar and what was different between Pakistani (which I've never had) and Indian and Afghan (lucky enough to have checked off those boxes on the foodie scorecard).

Ravi's just what it sounds like, a joint with all types of kabobs. From that part of the world where the Indians and Persians got their food on and the Europeans, Arabs, and Asians eventually traveled around. God bless spice trading in the Middle Ages for bringing all this food together.

Since we'd never been CassiBob and I each got an app. She went Samosa, I went Special Samosa. And DAMN was it special. The special was an open-face Samosa (potato, pea, standard fare) SMOTHERED with stewed chick peas, onion, a sweet/hot sauce, and cilantro...lots of cilantro. And blessedly it was large enough to share without hesitation. CassiBob thought the Samosa was okay, and I'm guessin' she might have had a higher individual opinion of it had my special not been right beside it.

For the entrees, we get into serious Meatopia. There are chicken marinated in yogurt (CassiBob), ground beef with spices (CassiBob), whole lamb chops grilled to perfection (ThisGuy), cubed beef and lamb on the spit, and daily specials cafeteria-style including a lamb and lentil dish (KarlJohn). Each dinner comes with two sides and the staff automatically recommends rice and chick peas and a hefty piece of bread (In the Indian joint, it'd be Naan. Not sure if there's a Pakistani food word that's different). CassiBob and KarlJohn went there. For a little more variety on the table, I tried the rice and some black-eyed peas. Each plate also accompanied by a small salad.

Take note. This was the best lamb chop I have ever eaten. It was perfectly charred on the outside and medium on the inside. You KNEW it was cooked with fire. And you loved every blessed, bone-knawing minute of it. Yes people, if you get meat served on a bone; pick it up. Don't you dare waste that food.

Tangent. Karl and I had that great conversation about the chick pea at Super Pollo. So versatile in so many different cuisines from Italian to Peruvian to Indian and Lebanese. What a great food. Here at Ravi I was struck by being able to same the same thing about the black-eyed pea. I've slow-cooked mine for years with a ham hock and garlic/onion. These guys were slow-cooking theirs with cardamom and coriander and the same garlic/onion mix. So much more that we have in common; because I have to believe that some Southern dude in fatigues and some Afghan dude away from home are both remembering long-simmered greens and stewed black-eyed peas. Not getting too far out there, just sayin' I bet it happens a lot.

Staff/Crowd. Look, I'll be honest here. I'm pretty 'merican in appearance. And I love it when I'm in a food joint from a galaxy far, far away and can tell. It tells me one thing: People who grew up eating this food out of there mother's kitchen think this is food on which it is worth spending money. And I have to say I feel lucky to walk into places like Ravi. The crowd was all happy, the food was flying out at a good clip into the waiting arms of a husband and wife, co-workers, and native friends catching up at their local joint that serves family-style bowls of several meals.

Staff could tell as soon as we walked in that we were new and helped out immensely. Dude sitting at the four-top waiting for his togo? Yeah, polite move-ask from the staff so we could grab the table. Behind the counter? Here, look over some menus. Yes, you order up here then we'll let you know when the food is ready. In this tray? That's the daily chicken special. Here's the lamb. Ready to order? Sure. Yes, the Ravi Speical? Of course. It's rare when I notice a rapid-fire ordering interaction that much, but this one worked very well. Perfectly timed 'everything okay' during the meal. Eye contact as we were heading out and a pleasant 'how was it?' because I think he really wanted to make sure it was good. Amen to that.

Ravi Kabob House on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Super Pollo

"Oh my god, I can smell it." That's what I said a full block away from Super Pollo before I even knew exactly where it was. It SMELLED that good...OUTSIDE...A BLOCK AWAY. I'm serious folks, it smelled so good. Like the barbecue you drive by on your way somewhere else when you knew you'd be happier in life if you were friends with the people making whatever smelled like that?

If I lived here, I'd eat at Super Pollo once a week too, Karl.

There's a rack full of chickens slathered in Peruvian rub churning and turning non-stop as you order at the cafeteria-style line. I didn't eat slowly enough to differentiate spices and herbs in the rub. This looks about right. Just go get one yourself...First up, how much chicken? 1/4 white or dark plus 2 sides for $5.05 (!!!!NOT a typo!!!!); 1/2 plus 2 for $7 and change, whole chicken for not much more. At 6pm on a Friday there's a steady stream of folks just getting off the metro and running through Super Pollo to get dinner on their way home. Can't blame 'em.

I was a half-chicken kinda guy last night. In part because, as you already are aware, I have no real concept of or desire to learn portion control. But also here because I really, in that split second between Karl finishing his order and me starting mine, I could not decide between white meat and dark meat. So I ordered the smallest portion that got me BOTH. That's smart, peeps. Just plain smart. And worth it. The meat was ridiculously moist and tender, the skin was equally crispy and slathered in the Peruvian rub. Two dippers with. One was chimichurri like. Hot with herbs and peppers. Second was mayo-based and slightly sweet. Close to what every honey mustard should ever be.

Sides ranged from chick peas with a cumin/coriander spice, fried yucca that looked like battered/fired bread when you bit in, fried plantains, and a mountain of rice and beans. The chick pea, as Karl rightly pointed out, is an amazing creation. And so good in so many forms. From a spicy channa masala over basmati in India to a cool, smooth, garlicky hummus in Lebanon to a cumin-scented side-dish in Peru. Plantains were sticky with carmelized goodness and it was a measure of my friendship with Karl that I permitted him a sample. Well, he introduced me to the place, so I felt slightly obligated too.

I would highly recommend getting up right now, going to the metro, getting the orange line, and getting off at Ballston. If you don't I will beat you to your rightful spot in line. While Monday night is already spoken for with dinner joints, I'll have to drive back through the area on my way home on Tuesday...Karl, you up for more Super Pollo???

Super Pollo Charcoal Broiled Chicken on Urbanspoon

The Pepperoni Roll

Came across this fine piece of New York Times reporting this week. It's about time that rag did some real journalism! [/snark]
“My mother packed these for my father,” Mr. Willis said, as he bit into a yeast-risen stub of white bread, seams bursting with coins of Hormel pepperoni, bottom tinged russet by the meat’s aromatic grease. “He worked a coal mine. This was his lunch. I eat the same thing. Breakfast and lunch both, it’s what I want.”

In the northern reaches of West Virginia, along a corridor of Appalachia stretching from Buckhannon, through Clarksburg, up to Morgantown, an appetite for pepperoni rolls cuts across class strata.

Great look into a bit of completely regional food. I remember my time as an Energy Express mentor at Mason-Dixon Elementary when the kids would leave after lunch and the mentors would stick around with the lead teachers runnin' the show to go over lesson plans. We'd head in to town to the D-Mart and get a sandwich or a snack and a pop of some sort to decompress after the kids left (we were all still in college, a pepperoni roll and a Dr. Pepper were still enough to unwind some days!).

The D-Mart staff were of the 'split it down the middle and slather it with chili' variety. That was new to me though. In Morgantown-proper, a pepperoni roll was merely warmed and eaten as is. I even got strange looks for eating pepperoni rolls that included cheese, though my glutton-for-punishment preference was the sliced pepperoni with the hot pepper-jack cheese inside.

And that brings up the biggest chasm in the pepperoni roll world. The article noted the two types, slice or stick pepperoni, but not the good-natured cultural divide between camps of bakers who adhere to one cut or the other. It can be fierce. There are families that have multiple trays of rolls at holidays so each camp can be satisfied.

I believe my Aunt M's recipe is stick pepperoni, but strangely I don't even have it. I'll have to get in touch and make a batch, 'cause Lord and the Gods of Pepperoni knows these low-landers down here haven't felt the awesome fury of the pepperoni roll...