Sunday, June 29, 2008

Fresh Corn Curry: from a Burmese restaurant

With corn on the cob coming in so heavily right now, I'm already looking for other ways of using it than just buttered and salted. The corn for dinner last night made me think of the fresh corn curry that I first had at an unusual restaurant, then standardized into a recipe for some of my teaching.

I first encountered this pretty dish in Bangkok, Thailand. It was at a little Burmese restaurant tucked back in an alley, but it had a superb cook. I cannot find anything similar in the four Burmese cook books I have consulted, so no guarantees about the curry’s authenticity as a traditional dish. But it is simple and delicious.

The recipe serves six as a side dish to a meat or fish curry and rice. But it can also serve as a tasty vegetable dish with Western food, such as a grilled hamburger.

Fresh Corn Curry

1 medium-small onion
4 tablespoons oil (not olive)
4 large ears fresh corn, yellow preferred
1-1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
1-1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne or ground hot pepper
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Peel the onion, cut it in half and thinly slice it lengthwise (not across into rings). Fry it in the oil, stirring frequently until golden brown. With a slotted spoon, lift the onion out onto a paper towel. Use the oil for the curry.

While the onion is frying, cut the corn off the cobs. Mince the ginger. When the onion is cooked and removed from the pan, in the oil remaining (add a little more if necessary), gently fry the ginger, turmeric, and cumin for about 20 seconds, stirring. Add the corn plus 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and stir and fry until becoming hot. Add enough water to keep a slight wetness to the corn and continue to gently fry it, covered, stirring frequently, until tender (3-4 minutes). Taste a kernel or two of corn from time to time to test for doneness, and add salt if necessary. When cooked, stir in most of the previously fried onion and most of the chopped cilantro. Remove from heat.

Place in a low serving bowl, and sprinkle with the reserved fried onion and cilantro. Serve warm to accompany another curry and rice. Or serve as a tangy vegetable dish with grilled meat.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Tangy Asiago-Almond Spread

At the risk of showing pride, I'll admit that I was pleased with how the smoked salmon spread (blog post of 6/25/08) turned out. Then today I discussed menu with a bride-to-be whose wedding we will be catering in November. She is vegetarian, as have been a number of people whose weddings we have catered in the last year or two. Aside from no 'roast beef station' (which we don't do anyway, but typical high-end caterers do), nor 'ham biscuits' for real Southerners, vegetarian means creative for parties. It struck me to my dismay that my new favorite appetizer spread would not do for the wedding, and we need several appetizers, since the wine and beer bar will be open well before dinner. The idea hit me that asiago cheese, with which I have a love-hate relationship, might be as strong flavored as smoked salmon and be the base for a tasty vegetarian spread.

Real Asiago is a tangy dry cheese from a town of that name in the Alpine region of eastern Italy. But I've never had the real thing. There is an 'asiago' from Wisconsin I'm familiar with that is very sharply tangy, and moderately priced. I don't like it, frankly, when it's baked on top of bread or bagels. But it challenged me. With that much character, asiago should be able to be put to good use. You'll have to judge if I've accomplished that.

This spread also contains almond butter, which I get freshly made at our Dekalb Farmer's Market. But pretty tasty almond butter is also available at Trader Joes and at health food stores. The almonds work well with the asiago to tone it down, give it a mellowness, and add their own particular charm. As with the smoked salmon spread, the wine-marinated sun-dried tomatoes and minced scallion green and freshly grated black pepper do their magic. I was, in fact, as pleased with this vegetarian appetizer spread as with the salmon version.

In terms of wines that this would go with this -- although the spread would be part of an appetizer or hors d'oeuvre course, rather than a featured course -- almost any fairly dry red would do. The dish is not acidic, having no lemon juice or other strongly tart tast that would require an acidic wine. And unlike the salmon version this replaces, the asiago-almond version does not need a white wine. Crackers, bread, or cucumber on which to serve the spread should not be salty.

The recipe makes enough for the appetizer for six or more people. Leftovers keep well in the fridge.

Tangy Asiago-Almond Spread Tim

2 tablespoons (packed) diced dried tomato, measured after you dice it
2 tablespoons white wine
1/2 pound (8 ounces) cream cheese or low-fat cream cheese
3/8 cup (6 tablespoons) packed grated asiago cheese
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) almond butter
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons (packed) thin-sliced green part of scallion

Using a chef's knife on a cutting board, shred the dry tomato, if not already shredded, and then dice it. Soak the tomato in white wine at least 15 minutes. Finely slice the green part of a scallion and cut across the slices a few times, until you have 2 teaspoons, packed. Grind the black pepper.

With a fork, mash the cream cheese with the grated cheese, almond butter, and pepper in a bowl. Mix until reasonably smooth. Add the marinated tomatoes and any juices, and onion greens. Mix well. Let sit for a few minutes for flavors to mingle. Mix again, and taste. Add a little salt if needed (the quantity depends on how salty the cheese and almond butter were). If the spread is very thick, add a teaspoon of milk or water, and mix well. Add more liquid only if necessary.

Serve in a shallow bowl, sprinkled with minced parsley or thinly sliced scallion greens. Accompany with water crackers or other low-salt crackers, thinly sliced baguette, or other crusty bread. Alternatively, use cucumber sliced 1/8-inch thick, cutting on an angle to make slices longer than they are wide. Rinse and drain the slices.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Best Salmon Spread I've Ever Made

Passing by my 'other' office Monday morning I found a bowl of smoked salmon spread and some water crackers that together were really wonderful. Peggy was just back from a cruise to Alaska, and this was her treat to the office staff. It was that cooked-in-smoke type of salmon that you get from Alaska and the Pacific Northwest, not the translucent European-style 'cured' salmon.

In addition to plenty of fine-chunked salmon, the spread had a cream cheese base, and contained (I believe) shredded sun-dried tomatoes and, based on the taste, fresh black pepper. It probably did not have my favorite ingredient for this type of thing, horseradish.

I decided to try to replicate the spread, but using the smoked salmon available here on the East Coast. What emerged, arguably, was the best smoked salmon dish I've ever made. My recipe makes an intensely salmon-flavored spread. For economy (e.g., for serving a bunch of college students, or maybe your brother-in-law), I'm sure you could increase, maybe even double, all the ingredients other than the salmon. You might need to add a little extra salt. But taste it before doing that.

Because of the balance of flavors of this and many other appetizer spreads and dips, I much prefer unsalted, or at least only lightly salted, crackers or sliced baguette or other bread. So many of the commercial crackers are so loaded with salt, they overpower a well-seasoned spread. An alternative on which to serve the spread is sliced cucumber. This recipe will make enough for a party, or serve many for the appetizer course of a dinner. Leftovers are great the next day.

Tangy Smoked Salmon Spread Tim

2 tablespoons (packed) diced dried tomato, measured after you dice it
2 tablespoons white wine
1/2 pound smoked salmon (about 1-1/4 cups)
2 teaspoons (packed) thin-sliced green part of scallion
1/2 pound cream cheese or low-fat cream cheese
1 tablespoon milk
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Salt to taste
Minced parsley or thinly sliced green part of scallion for garnish

Using a chef's knife on a cutting board, shred the tomato, if not already shredded, and then dice it. Soak the tomato in white wine at least 15 minutes. Place the salmon on a plate, cover with waxed paper, and microwave for 1 minute. Turn the pieces, then microwave 10 seconds more at a time, until the salmon has turned opaque and looks cooked. Cool and break the salmon up into pieces. Finely slice the green part of a scallion and cut across the slices a few times, until you have 2 teaspoons, packed. Grind the black pepper.

With a fork, mash the cream cheese with the milk and pepper in a bowl. Mix until reasonably smooth. Add the marinated tomatoes and any juices, salmon, and onion greens. Mix well, mashing gently to break up the salmon. Let sit for a few minutes for flavors to mingle. Mix again, and taste. Add a little salt if needed (the quantity depends on how salty the salmon was).

Serve in a shallow bowl, sprinkled with minced parsley or thinly sliced scallion greens. Accompany with water crackers, thinly sliced baguette, or other crusty bread. Alternatively, use cucumber sliced 1/8-inch thick, cutting on an angle to make slices longer than they are wide. Rinse and drain the slices.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Pasta with Green Olives, Basil, Garlic, and a Surprise

I recently taught a class in Athens on Mediterranean French and Italian cooking. The class organizer at The Rolling Pin named it 'A Visit to Monaco'. We needed a pasta to accompany the chicken breast sautéed with mustard sauce (my blog 11/26/06) and the Ratatouil (my blog 8/1/07). What worked well was a fairly simple dish of short pasta (I used orichette) dressed with green olives, red grape tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, fresh herbs, and Romano cheese, and -- surprise! -- potato cooked in with the pasta. Easy to make, it held its own against the swirled flavors of Mediterranean vegetables and Dijon mustard-tinged cream.

This colorful pasta celebrates summer in appearance and flavor. It would serve as either a lunch dish on its own or as a pasta accompaniment for a meat or fish dish. While I used the small round orichette (ears), farfale (butterflies [or bow ties]), penne, or even a fettucini would do quite well. For the class, I served a red Spanish wine from Navarra. Many Mediterranean French wines, such as Côtes du Rhône, as well as many Spanish wines are made predominantly from the Garnacha (Grenache) grape. They are medium bodied, fragrant and spicy (like black pepper!), but not flowery, which to me makes them better for dinner, especially in warm weather. For the same quality, the Spanish wines are typically less expensive than the French ones.

The recipe serves six.

Pasta with Green Olives and Garlic Tim

1/2 pint (1 cup) grape or cherry tomatoes or 1 large tomato
1 medium-large or 2 medium potatoes
1/2 cup pitted green olives (if available) or pimento-stuffed olives
2 large cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons flat parsley
6 medium-sized basil leaves
6 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
12 ounces (3/4 pound) short pasta, such as penne, bow ties, or orichette, or use fettucini
1/3 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese plus extra for serving

Prepare the vegetables and keep each type separate: Cut the tiny tomatoes, if used, in half, but do not de-seed them. Or if using a large tomato, cut it in quarters, push the seeds and juice out with your finger, and cut the tomato into 1/2-inch pieces. Peel the potato(es) and cut them in 1/2-inch cubes. Keep them in water until needed. Drain the olives and cut them in half, crosswise. Mince the garlic. Chop the parsley coarsely, discarding the stems. Shred the basil leaves crosswise 1/4-inch wide. Bring a very large pot of water to the boil. Add a teaspoon of salt and keep the water hot. 15-20 minutes before serving time, over medium heat, heat the olive oil in a large frying pan. Briefly fry the garlic until fragrant but not browning, and remove from the heat. Add the olives and tomatoes plus 2 tablespoons water. Stir and let cool. Stir in the fresh herbs, pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon salt.

Bring the hot water back to a fast boil over high heat. Add the potatoes, drained, and let cook one minute. Add the pasta and stir immediately with a long fork so the pasta does not stick. Stir frequently during cooking. After a few minutes (cooking time depends on the pasta used), remove a piece of pasta, cool it briefly and bite into it to test for tenderness. The pasta should be cooked just until it becomes tender and loses any crunch in the center. Drain it in a colander, shaking it well to remove the water. Pour it into a large pasta bowl along with the garlic and olive mixture and the grated cheese. Using two large spoons, toss to mix lightly. Taste, and if not salted enough sprinkle on some salt and toss again. Serve with a little more cheese sprinkled on top plus extra to accompany.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

French Cucumber Salad with Crème Fraiche and Dill

I first had this dish in Lyons, France, prepared by an excellent home cook, who was also a medical researcher, as the cooling starter course for dinner on a hot summer evening. It is easy to make, particularly if you use a vegetable slicer or peeler for slicing the cucumber. Although originally made with crème fraiche, a French cultured heavy cream, American sour cream works almost as well.

This is a delightful side dish or appetizer for early summer, when cucumbers are plentiful and the weather is warm. Dill seems to cool the dish, as does the mild tang from the cream. The combination of cucumber, soured cream, and dill suggests an upscale version of the numerous cucumber-yogurt dishes that extend from Greece (tsadziki) to Turkey (cacik) to Iran (mastochiar) to India (raita). (I have recipes for some of those in my blog posting of April 25, 2008).

The recipe serves six as an appetizer course or side dish for a dinner.

French Cucumber Salad with Crème Fraiche and Dill Tim

2 large cucumbers
8 ice cubes
1 small shallot or 1 scallion (green onion)
1 tablespoon white vinegar (wine or distilled)
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons freshly minced dill or 2 teaspoons dry dill weed
1/2 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
Minced dill for garnish

Peel the cucumbers thinly, leaving some green color. Quarter them lengthwise and cut off and discard the seed section. Slice the cucumbers very thinly (a vegetable slicer or vegetable peeler makes this easier). Mix sliced cucumbers with ice cubes, enough water to reach the surface of the cucumbers, plus the 1/2 teaspoon salt. Mix together gently and allow the mixture to sit for 5 minutes. Drain well.

Slice the shallot or scallion (green part also) very thinly and add to the cucumber. Add the vinegar, sugar, pepper, dill, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir to mix well. Allow to sit at least 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt and add a little if necessary.

Stir occasionally while waiting to serve the salad. About 5 minutes before serving, drain away the juices. Add the crème fraiche or sour cream and mix in well. Taste and adjust salt, if necessary. To serve, spoon into a shallow, attractive dish and dust with a little more dill.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Basque Pork (or Beef) Stew: a great use for summer vegetables

In Georgia, the hot weather has arrived, as have summer vegetables. This afternoon at the Dekalb Farmers Market I bought Georgia zucchini, tomatoes, and onions, and have basil and rosemary in my garden. It's still early for bell peppers, but they won't be long. Pretty soon we'll be inundated with wonderful fresh vegetables. And after several weeks we'll be looking desperately for new things to cook with them.

The excuse for developing this dish, based on the French Basque cooking I've occasionally been exposed to, is the lunches I often prepare for the staff meetings that Christina attends at St. Bartholemews. That group happily tests both tried-and-true dishes from my repertoire, but also on occasion guinea-pigs new creations.

I was pleased with how fresh and 'clean', yet rich, this stew turned out. It has only fresh vegetables, meat, fresh herbs, and red wine. I used a little cornstarch to seal the meat, but no flour or dried herbs. I used shoulder ('butt') of pork. Stew beef would work equally well, though it would take longer to cook. This stew is being accompanied by lightly salted long-grain (Basmati) rice. Usually my recipes serve six, but this one is for eight, since that's the number of diners it's going to. Leftovers will make another meal.

For wine, a hearty dry red, such as from southern France or northern Spain, seems right. Probably a garnacha (grenache), tempranillo, or any regional Spanish red wine. As for American wines, a good red zinfandel would do, as would an Italian Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.

Basque Style Stew with Summer Vegetables Tim

2-1/2 pounds trimmed pork (or beef), in 1-1/2 to 2-inch chunks
2 teaspoon cornstarch plus 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper for dusting
Olive oil or rendered pork fat for frying
1 medium-large onion, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 large tomatoes, cut in dice, or 2 cups canned diced
1 large stalk celery, split lengthwise several times and sliced 1/4-inch wide
2 medium zucchini diced (1/2-inch cubes)
1 small red bell pepper, cut in 1/4-inch squares
1/2 cup red wine
1 teaspoon salt for the cooking plus more to taste
2-inch sprig fresh rosemary
4 large leaves fresh basil
(or if fresh herbs aren't available, 1/2 teaspoon herbes de provence)

Cut the meat, if not already cubed. If there is some fat to trim off, render it in the stew pan. Save 2-3 tablespoons fat, and remove the cracklins -- or use olive oil. Toss the meat with the mixture of the cornstarch, salt, and pepper. Fry the meat cubes, half at a time, over low heat, until beginning to brown, turning the meat often and scraping the pan. While the meat is searing, prepare the vegetables. Remove the meat to a bowl, and after the second half is done, add the onions to the pan (plus a little more oil, if needed), and fry gently, stirring frequently until softened. Stir in the minced garlic, and fry gently about 2 minutes. Then add the rest of the vegetables one type at a time, heating just until the mixture simmers before adding the next. Finally add the red wine, 1 teaspoon salt, the herbs, and the pre-cooked meat. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan. Push the meat down into the sauce as it develops.

Continue to simmer, covered, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the pan, for 30 minutes for the pork, 40 for beef. Add another 1/2 teaspoon salt. Continue to simmer, stirring from time to time, until the meat is tender, for a total simmering time of about 45 minutes for pork, 50 to 60 minutes for beef. Taste the gravy and add a little salt if needed.

This is better if cooked ahead and gently reheated for serving. Accompany with lightly salted rice or noodles.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

'Tandoori' Chicken Tikka: Luscious Kebabs for Summer Grilling

I was reminded of these wonderful North Indian spiced chicken kebabs recently when my brother-in-law in Pennsylvania wanted a recipe for them for a graduation party for two of my nieces. I had worked the recipe out from various sources for our restaurant and deli in Athens GA as part of the 'butter chicken' curry we periodically make. That curry actually uses the marinated and roasted meat in a rich sauce full of tomatoes, ginger, cardamom, butter, and cream. Without giving away the trade secrets for the sauce, I can share the kebabs.

This is one of the 'tandoori' dishes that are so popular with foreigners in India and at non-vegetarian Indian restaurants in the US. The tandoor, after which the foods are named, is an urn-shaped clay oven sunk into the ground, in which a hot charcoal fire is burned at the bottom. Foods to be roasted are skewered on long steel rods and dropped into the oven from the top by the cook, or 'kebabshi', or in the case of breads (such as 'naan') are stuck onto the inner wall of the oven and manipulated with steel hooks and long-handled spatulas. The flavor of any tandoori dish is enriched with the super-hot charcoal fumes.

Tandoori chicken halves or, in the case of the tikka kebabs, chunks of boneless chicken are marinated overnight in a mixture of spices, yogurt, garlic, ginger, and vinegar, and typically are stained bright red with food color. The recipe below makes an authentic-tasting and appearing tandoori chicken tikka. For home use, a charcoal or gas grill is more readily available than a real tandoor. And the kebabs can also be grilled under a hot broiler in the oven, although without the wonderful flame flavor.

While the marinating and, particularly, the skewering are mildly tedious, they are done ahead, and only the grilling is done at dinner time. Chunks of lime are served with the kebabs for squeezing on to the meat, and typically wedges of tomato, onion, and cucumber are also served as accompaniments.

The recipe will serve six generously. My brother-in-law reported that some of the teenaged boys at the graduation party were, quite happily, serving themselves four kebabs at a time.

Chicken Tikka Kababs Tim


In food processor or blender, puree:
4 large cloves garlic
1-1/2-inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced (substitute 1-1/2 teaspoons ground dry ginger)
1/2 cup yogurt
5 tablespoons vinegar
Transfer to bowl and stir in:
1 tablespoon cornstarch (not traditional, but works well)
1 tablespoon salt
1-1/2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon turmeric
1 tablespoon ground cumin
3/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon each liquid red food color and yellow food color (traditional, but can be omitted)
3 tablespoons canola oil

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thigh

Trim off tough parts and part of the fat (the remainder will cook off during grilling). Cut meat into long strips 3/4-inch wide (or large bite size). Mix well with the marinade, and marinate overnight.

Boil bamboo skewers in water 10 minutes to soak thoroughly to resist burning. If you used the food color, use plastic gloves to avoid staining your hands with the marinade. When you put chicken on the skewers, if you used long strips you can skewer them lengthwise if thick, or if thin, thread them on in ribbon fashion, folded one or more times. Do not leave exposed skewer in between chicken pieces, or they will burn and the stick will fall apart. The chicken can be skewered in the morning and the kebabs refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap, until ready for grilling.

Grill over a medium heat, preferably over real charcoal, but a gas grill also works. Or the kebabs can be grilled under a broiler in the oven. Turn the kebabs several times until well done.

Serve with wedges of tomato, slices of red onion, and slices of cucumber. Accompany with chunks of lime to squeeze onto the kebabs.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Great Waffles, Surprisingly Easy

We have always enjoyed waffles for special breakfasts. And now the grandkids love them when they come to visit. August just had them this weekend two mornings in a row, then hauled an extra little bag of them with him for snacks on his car trip back to Athens.

The modern non-stick surfaced waffle irons and spray oil make cooking much easier than I recall when I was a kid, when you spent great time scraping stuck-on crusts out of the nooks and crannies of the iron after the waffle split in the middle and clung to the iron. But now, in addition to better griddles and, when needed, a whiff of oil spray, even our recipe is simpler. Most of that is Christina's doing, with one little trick I figured out from the ingredient list on the Aunt Jemima waffle and pancake mix box. My contribution on the recipe below is the addition of some rice flour, which gives a crispiness to the waffles -- or to pancakes if you put some in that batter.

These waffles contain some beneficial flours, so they are even reasonably healthy. Until you slosh them with butter and maple syrup, of course.

The recipe makes 10 to 12 waffles, enough to serve six people. Leftover batter can be refrigerated and cooked up to 3-4 days later, stirring in a pinch of baking powder before baking.

Crispy Waffles Christina

2 eggs
2 cups buttermilk or kefir (or 1-7/8 cups regular milk plus 2 tablespoons vinegar)
2 tablespoons melted butter or canola oil
1 cup flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour (health food stores) or regular rice flour (Asian groceries)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Lightly beat the eggs in a bowl. Mix in the milk and melted butter or oil. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ones, and mix briefly just until combined -- do not beat!

When the waffle iron is hot, spray the heated surfaces with spray oil if it is not non-stick. If using a non-stick iron, merely ladle some of the batter on.

Leftover batter can be stored in a covered container up to 4 days in the refrigerator. If it has been more than one day of storage, stir in a pinch of baking soda.

Creamy Rice Pudding

I didn't understand it for a long time. The wonderful rice pudding, creamy and white and dusted with cinnamon, that I got when my Aunt Alice took me to the Automat up in Middletown was so different from the rice pudding my mother made, with rice in a baked custard studded with raisins. Mum's pudding was good in its own right, but it wasn't anything like the rich creamy one I liked so much. No matter what recipes I tried, and stirring during baking, I only could produce something like my mother's.

Later I learned that the Automat was run by a Greek family. And then I had creamy rice pudding made by Lebanese -- though that was bathed with a luscious syrup fragrant with spices and orange blossoms. So the rice pudding I had loved as a kid was an eastern Mediterranean one, and simmered on top of the stove, not baked.

It took a while to get the technique down, a lot of trial and error. One of the recurring errors was getting a golden brown crust on the bottom of the pan, which then stained the pudding. One breakthrough was using short-grained rice, which is creamier than the long-grained rice I usually cooked with. Then I discovered that Japanese rice, the kind you use for sushi, gives the best texture, at least of the types of rice we can find locally.

Here then is the fruit of a lot of labor, a really luscious, creamy, rice pudding. It has the subtle seasoning of both the Greek and the Lebanese rice puddings that I enjoyed. The recipe will serve six. Make the pudding ahead and allow it to chill before serving.

Creamy Rice Pudding Tim

1 cup short-grained rice, Japanese sushi style preferred
2 cups water
2-1/2 cups whole milk
1 thin whole cinnamon stick
2 whole cardamom pods (small), or 3 whole cloves
2-inch strip peeled from an orange (scrub and rub orange dry)
7 tablespoons (8 if you like it sweeter) sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ground cinnamon for serving

Rinse the rice and drain. Bring it to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pot with 2 cups water. As soon as it boils, turn the heat down to the lowest, cover and simmer 20 minutes without opening the lid.

Add the milk, whole spices, and orange peel, and simmer, uncovered, over low heat, stirring frequently with a wooden paddle or spoon and scraping the bottom of the pot to prevent sticking. After about 20 minutes, add the sugar and salt. Continue to simmer with frequent stirring until the pudding is creamy, 10 minutes or so. Remove from the heat. Stir in the vanilla. Stir occasionally as the pudding cools so no crust forms, removing the spices and orange peel when you see them. Transfer pudding into a serving dish. Dust with a little ground cinnamon. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and chill before serving.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Really Good Coleslaw, Delicatessen-Style

Summertime continues. I just posted a blog on my favorite potato salad (6/3/08). Now the other shoe drops: coleslaw.

Up North, coleslaw went with summer picnics and as a side dish to sandwiches. In the South there are additional roles; it's served with barbecue and even on hot dogs. While we might assume it's all-American, coleslaw is in fact of Dutch origin. 'Kool sla' in Dutch, pronounced, interestingly, cole slaw, simply means cabbage salad.

This is the better coleslaw I remember from my childhood, when tangy but not too creamy cabbage and carrot salad was best bought at a Jewish delicatessen because it eclipsed the glubby mayonnaise-laden, bland concoction of my mother, who otherwise generally was quite a good cook. My aunt learned the secret from a caterer she knew: finely sliced cabbage and grated carrot, white vinegar and sugar, Dijon mustard, limited mayonnaise, and plenty of marinating time. The recipe serves six as a side dish, with left-overs.

Delicatessen-Style Coleslaw Tim

1 medium head of green cabbage*, or 3/4 of a large head
1 medium carrot
2 tablespoons mayonnaise ('real' preferred)
2 teaspoons Dijon style mustard
5 tablespoons white vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1-1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

Discard any tough outer cabbage leaves. Cut the head in half through the stem and cut it again into quarters. Set a quarter on a board and cut away the core and any big ribs on the exterior. Shred cabbage finely crosswise. This can be done with a sharp knife on a cutting board, but it's easiest in a food processor fitted with a thin slicer blade or using a mandolin. Place the shredded cabbage in a very large bowl for easy mixing, and shred the rest of the cabbage. Peel the carrot and shred, using a grater or the food processor fitted with a grater blade. Add it to the cabbage. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, sugar, vinegar, pepper and salt. Mix well. It will be dry at first. Let it sit 15 or 20 minutes, mixing from time to time, until the cabbage softens and the juices increase. Taste and adjust salt or vinegar or sugar as desired. Coleslaw is best if allowed to chill for a half hour or more, or even up to several days, covered. Taste before serving and adjust seasoning if needed.

* Although not traditional, spectacularly beautiful coleslaw can be made using red cabbage rather than green. It serves well on a holiday buffet table.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Great Potato Salad

With summer here, potato salad seems in season. Of course, I love it any time of year. And in some cultures, like in Scandanavia, it's seasonal in the winter. Especially if it has some boiled beets worked into it to color it that wonderful shocking pink*.

I grew up with glubby mayonaisey potato salad, sometimes made jaringly crunchy with chunks of celery and boringly bland with hard-boiled eggs. I've come a long way from those days. What exposed me to exciting potato salad was German delicatessens. Thinly sliced potatoes that, while fully cooked, still had some texture, a thin tangy dressing that excited your mouth, and an absence of distracting additives like mustard, cucumbers, celery and eggs, all made the salad a fabulous accompaniment to wonderful grilled sausages or a hearty sandwich.

I learned how to cook the potatoes to an ideal texture fairly by accident when working on catering as an early teenager with my neighbors, a German-American man, who was a great cook, and his Polish-American wife, who was also a fine cook. The accident was that with huge pots of potatoes to cook, the boiling water hardly simmered. When the potatoes were tender to piercing with a toothpick, they were still firm. Just not crunchy. I now get that texture by simmering the potatoes, unpeeled, in an open pan with plenty of water to cover, and never let a real boil take place. The starches in the potatoes set in place, and the skins do not burst, mostly. Waxy potatoes (Yukon gold, red-skinned) do well, but even starchy baking potatoes can be used if the simmering is very slow. Ideally potatoes about the same size are best to use, since they cook at the same rate. Thin-skinned potatoes do not need peeling after boiling, a modern touch, though traditionally for delicatessen potato salad the potatoes were peeled after boiling.

Potato salad is distinctly better when made a day or two in advance and allowed to marinate in the fridge. Here's a recipe that will serve six people as a side dish or appetizer.

German Delicatessen Style Potato Salad Tim

2 lbs small to medium 'waxy' potatoes, such as Yukon gold, red skinned, or Maine (if you live in New England)
1 large or 2 medium scallions (green onions) or 2 tablespoons minced onion (red is attractive)
4 tablespoons white vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons mayonnaise ('real' mayonnaise works best)
1 tsp salt or to taste
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespons finely minced parsley

Prepare the potatoes -- proper cooking is the most important step in making a good potato salad. Scrub the potatoes if dirt is clinging. In a large, uncovered pan with plenty of extra water, bring them just to a simmer over medium heat. Do not boil them rapidly or cover the pan. If the water is bubbling, pour in a little cool water to slow it. (The slow cooking allows the potatoes to firm up despite being fully cooked.) Move the pan occasionally to gently move the potatoes around. After 8-10 minutes, test a potato for doneness, ideally with a cake tester or a toothpick. When tender except for the very center, which should be slightly firm but not crunchy, remove from the heat, drain off the water, and allow to cool.

Peel the potatoes, if desired, and especially if the skins are thick. For red potatoes or many Yukon potatoes, peeling is not necessary. Slice potatoes 1/4-inch thick, cutting the potato in half first if large. Place in a large bowl for easy mixing. Slice the scallion finely, including the green parts, or finely mince the onion. Place them in a small bowl with the vinegar, sugar, mayonnaise, salt, pepper and minced parsley. Mix to break up the mayonnaise and stir the mixture into the potatoes. Mix gently with a large metal spoon (the back side works well and breaks the potatoes up less) -- or your hands (use plastic gloves to be sanitary if the salad is to be stored a long time). Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes, then mix again. Taste, and if necessary, add salt or vinegar or sugar. The taste should be slightly salty (the potato will absorb more) and tangy sweet-sour.

Potato salad is best if made in advance and refrigerated a few hours or up to several days. Before serving, stir gently, taste, and do any final adjustments of seasoning.

*Note: for Swedish-style pink potato salad, add 1 small boiled beet, peeled and cut in 1/8-inch shoestring strips. It takes a while and several gentle stirrings to get the color distributed.