Monday, October 26, 2009

moved to

check out the new home of this blog, on it's not really fully setup yet. why the move? because i want to try to migrate off of google as bloghost.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mujadarrah (Jordanian Rice and Lentils)

I borrowed Deborah Madison's ``Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone'' from the library.

This one looks like it might one to snipe off EBay or buy off I have a number of vegetarian cookbooks, having been raised somewhat vegetarian, but really only Yamuna Devi's Indian Vegetarian seems to have reached this level of depth and taste, and it's not an easy, daily cookbook. Madison has simple, to-the-point recipes that capture the core of a dish, like Elizabeth David, but David is shot through with those occasional, little, ineffable extra gems in her writing.

But even so, I just like reading Madison, maybe more than David. I feel like there's so much to learn, and many of the Cal-world-modern flavors and ideas are new to me, having been schooled by Hazan. This is definitely the first Jordanian dish I've ever made -- and I cooked it entirely wrong, not following Madison at all. But it still turned out tasty, which is a big credit to Madison in my opinion.

The problem was that I didn't have white Basmati rice, only brown Basmati, and I had to made dinner quickly and then leave for a late-evening appointment. And we know that brown rice cooks slowly.

So I put in the lentils, toor daal in Hindi or yellow pigeon pea gram lentils in English, and then the rice, as Madison said, and then I realized the brown Basmati would never finish on time. So I transferred to a pressure cooker. Which cooked the brown Basmati on time but made a slush out of the toor daal. And yet, it was good.

The beauty of Mujadarrah, what separates it from an Indian daal, is that there's no spices, no masala, only olive oil, black pepper and onion as the flavor. It is a simplified, highlighted daal, a simple khicherie.


Slice an onion into 1/4 inch rounds. Fry in medium-low in 6 tablespoons of olive oil (you know you can't got wrong now) until its mahogany colored. Meanwhile boil 1 1/4 cup of rinsed, sorted lentils (you can use green, brown, or yellow) in 1Q water and a little salt for about 15-20 min. Then add the rice, brown or white, and much black pepper (to taste). Cook covered until the rice is done, about 15 min for white and 1 hour for brown rice. When you're done, then mix in about half of the onions and use the rest to top the servings.

Simple, uses very few ingredients, and very tasty.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Apple Pie - A New Hope

This has been a long and winding road. I first made apple pie (crust from scratch of course) in fall of 2005, and it was incredible. Every time I made it, it came out amazing. The crust was crisp, light, nice, the apples were nice, everything was amazingly tasty. Then apple season ended, and I didn't make any pies or pie crusts until fall of 2006. And I had forgotten something.

The crusts from then on for a long time were tragic. Every time, every time, I would try to follow the instructions, first in Pepin's Technique, since that's where I think I first learned the original nice crusts, then in Julia Child. But instead of pie crust, I'd get nothing but disappointment every time. For years. The apples would be nicely roasted, soft, the crust would, every time, look like it might've worked. And then we'd taste it and it would be atrocious, in some slightly different way from before. Typically they would be hard, mealy, undercooked in some spots and overcooked in some spots.

I mentioned it to the nurse at the dental office once, and she told me that she had foolproof crust recipes, and gave me 4! And I tried a few, and they didn't work. I eventually just stopped making pies altogether, except on very rare occasions when I'd get my hopes up, and then every time they would be dashed by the first bite. But from the bottom, the only way to go is up.

I watched Julia Child's videos, and I saw that she made Tarte Tatin, and that it was pretty easy actually. I made Tarte Tatin, and it worked! The crust was not absurd! It wasn't great, but it was edible, not repellent, perhaps slightly enjoyable. That was the beginning. So I made Tarte Tatin a number of times and was somewhat pleased with it. But Tarte Tatin is not, to my memory, as good as those incredible apple pies in 2005. (Once I remember I processed heavy cream with ice in my food processor and made the butter which I used for the crust, and again, it was incredible, more so than other times. Today I wouldn't dare do that, the butter that you get is soft and moist, which seems like a totally unpredictable thing to put into the pie dough. But it worked once, very well, the butter flavor was even nicer.)

Then in Marcella Hazan I found a recipe for an Asti-style apple tart which was unlike any of the classic apple tarts, and so I made it, and it also came out decently. It is pleasant, aromatic, (it has a lemon and orange zest), very nice. But not like those apple pies.

A few weeks ago I made an apple pie from Pepin, I think, and the crust as not absurd. Again, it wasn't great, but not absurd. From what I recall, it had something to do with limiting the amount of water. But the result wasn't great enough for me to keep track of.

2 pies ago, there was an apple pie in the oven, from Pepin's Cooking with Claudine. No improvement. Then recently we started going to an orchard and got apples. Made a crust using the blender from Julia's Way to Cook. No improvement. She mentions low-gluten pastry flour, which I got, and made another crust with, again no improvement.

Today I made the crust from a website, then I finished it from Pepin's Techniques. Improvement. Definite improvement. What was different?



I added more water this time. Up to now, I somehow got it into my head that there shouldn't be a lot of water in the crust, the dough should break apart. This time I added water until I could roll it into a ball. When I rolled the dough out, it was still a little crumbly, hard to handle. So next time there will be more water. When I made the butter myself, the butter was watery! You can only squeeze out so much water from home-made butter.

The bottom of the pie is a bit soggy, so I think a little blind-baking might be in order.

Here's the website.

And just to make sure Dana's recipe stays here, here it is again:


  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup butter, chilled and diced
  • 1/4 cup ice water


  1. In a large bowl, combine flour and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in water, a tablespoon at a time, until mixture forms a ball. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 4 hours or overnight.
  2. Roll dough out to fit a 9 inch pie plate. Place crust in pie plate. Press the dough evenly into the bottom and sides of the pie plate.
So the key to why this worked for me is that Dana says to make crumbs, then add water until it forms a ball, then wrap and refrigerate. Afterwards rolling it out!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Crab Cakes

Yesterday I made crab cakes for the first time. On Mother's Day when I was leaving the restaurant my sister took my mom and wife, I overhead someone telling the waiter ``Those were the best crabcakes I've ever had.''

I've always loved crabcakes. I never made them myself though. I used to buy frozen Maryland crabcakes from Trader Joe's in Los Angeles and cook them in a little toaster oven in my kitchen-less studio apartment. Trader Joe's was always a little too hectic though.

So anyway overhearing that guy say that triggered my crabcake desire. Then summer vacation started and we wanted to celebrate so we went to a nearby restaurant and ordered.. crabcakes. They were good, but pricey. Then a few days ago we were at Costco and bought a 1 pound can of crabmeat for $15 which is a good price I think.

I started off by reading Jacques Pepin's recipe. He always surprises me with his subtlety and .. artistry. There's really no other word for it. So I made something like this:

1 pound crab meat, store mayonnaise, 3 ounces of white bread, black pepper, a little red pepper, olive oil. Some thyme, dill if you have it. Mix it up, pat into cakes and shallow fry. They are pretty loose.

Pepin recommends a garnish which is lovely: 1 avocado, 1 tomato, olive oil, red wine/balsamic vinegar, black pepper. Chop, mix and serve the cakes on top.

From doing this I learned something. The crab cakes I made were simpler than any I've had before. Not as many spices and flavorings. Not as much bread. What I learned was that Pepin, being a master chef, was just trying to highlight the crab, adding just a few touches here and there. Whereas when you buy crabcakes at a restaurant, they're often trying to stretch the crabmeat.

My crabcakes were better because they had way more crab in them! Even compared with expensive restaurants and Trader Joes.

The only flaw with my crabcakes was that they didn't really hold together that well. They were a bit like a crab hash. Which means add egg. The other thing to do is to make your own Mayonnaise. Next time.

You can buy a can of crab meat or steam a live crab and pick it out yourself --- or you can go crabbing like my friend took me once, but if you get wild crab it's very good just by itself, steamed or boiled.


Mayonnaise is easy, you take an electric mixer, beat egg yolks, then slowly dribble in olive oil until it's mayonnaise.

Tartar Sauce

Tartar sauce is mayonnaise, finely chopped pickles (you can use a food processor or grater,) chopped onions, lemon juice, and salt and pepper.

Crab Cakes from Jamee Ruth (whom I've never heard of)

1 pound of crab meat, chopped onion, 1/4 cup mayonnaise chopped cilantro, 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs, 1.5 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning, chopped jalapeno pepper, salt, white pepper, 1 egg, 5 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup all-purpose, tartar sauce. Also a baking sheet and wax paper.

Pick any shell from 1 pound of lump crab meat. Gently blend the crabmeat, onion, mayonnaise, cilantro, some of the breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs, the Old Bay, jalapeno, salt and pepper, but don't overmix. Stir in the beaten egg. Add breadcrumbs until the mixture holds together as cakes. Make 4-8 cakes on wax paper, saran wrap and chill for 30 minutes to 24 hours.

Mix the remaining tablespoon of breadcrumbs and the 1/4 cup of all-purpose. Heat oil in a frying pan. Coat each cake with the flour mix and put into the frying pan for 3 minutes each side.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Osso Buco Semplice

This is a nice dish, and not hard to prepare --- but you have to leave time, about 2.5 hours start-to-finish. I cooked it out of Hazan several times, but not often since the Osso Buco veal cut is pricey when it's even available. It's been mostly for special occasions. But today we went to the grocery, Whole Foods, and they had Osso Buco for $13/pound. Not bad. Still pricey, not as pricey as usual. And I thought, when am I going to make this anyway if not now? So I bought it. I thought I'd freeze it and use it one day for a special dinner...

When we got back I looked through Hazan and I thought, ah, well it's a little involved. Then I looked at Elizabeth David, and I thought, as usual, ah, the essential recipe. Elizabeth David understood that having the essence of the recipe meant you could then be creative with it. So I suppose Hazan's recipe might taste better, more complex, than David's, but it also doesn't show you the core of the recipe. Once you know the core, you can do what you like with it. The core of Osso Buco is an excellent dish, a marvel of simplicity actually. And Hazan isn't hard either, once you see what you're doing.

After reading David's recipe through carefully (as I do now and didn't do as a beginner,) I knew I could cook it tonight, even though it was getting late. Which would mean I didn't have to freeze and then thaw the osso buco, which makes it better. Freezing and thawing meat well makes a big difference, I'm beginning to think, in your final dishes. For example, we eat Korean bar-be-cue, and we buy American Kobe beef and freeze it. It's always been a problem thawing that, since if you don't thaw it well then the thin slices don't come apart nicely. So I started putting it down from the freezer into the fridge the night before, and now it's perfectly thawed, and I'm sure it tastes better than when I used to have to quick-thaw it in a Ziploc in warm water --- if nothing else it's more reliably thawed all the way through.

But when you have a nice piece of meat, then it's best not to freeze it at all. So here's what I cooked, based on David's recipe:

Osso Buco

2 ossi buchi cuts, good amount of butter, 2 peeled tomatoes, 1/2 cup wine. Use a pan that will fit the ossi buchi without crowding. Brown the ossi buchi on all sides in the butter. Toss in the wine, let it bubble for 10 minutes. Meanwhile chop the tomatoes. After 10 minutes, toss them in along with 1/4 cup of water. Cover. Simmer for 2 hours.

Great dishes don't get simpler than that. Osso buco is always served with risotto Milanese (do the Italians know how to live?) and gremolata. I didn't have a lemon to grate the peel of, and I didn't have Italian parsley, so I made up Jackson-o-lata, which was pretty good. I took 6 basil leaves from my plant (in the photo!), tore them, mixed them with some lime juice and a chopped clove of garlic. That goes on top of the ossi buchi and gives them a little extra flair.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Lamb - Italian Stew and Spicy Indian Cubes

I never liked lamb. It was one of the first dishes I tried when I started out learning to cook --- in fact, out of Hazan. Surprising, now that I think about it, that it failed --- I think it's the only dish out of Hazan that didn't work for me. It was her lamb stew. I had to go to the kitchen to look up the recipe again, since her book is in the kitchen since I use it regularly. But I haven't looked at this recipe since 2002 or so. So now I see that the reason I chose it was because it had so few ingredients:

Lamb Stew with Vinegar and Green Beans

1 pound fresh green beans, 1/4C olio, 3 pounds (!) lamb shoulder with bone cut into 2" cubes, 1/2C chopped onion, salt, pepper, 1/2C red wine vinegar.

Cut the ends of the beans, heat the oil, brown the lamb, take it out, cook the onion 'til it's golden, put back the lamb, add the salt, pepper and vinegar, boil vinegar for 30 sec while stirring. Add the beans, cover, and simmer for 1.5 hours (!). Add water if necessary.
I might try it again, I remember working on it as when I was a Ph.D. student, I was excited, I decided to learn to cook and decided on learning out of Hazan's Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking and Pepin's Techniques. But I remember that I didn't read the recipe through, I didn't know it would take 2 hours, I'd never prepared green beans. I was working with 3 pounds of smelly lamb! And after all that, when I tasted this lamb stew, it was too gamy. So I avoided cooking lamb since then, though I probably ate it occasionally in North Indian restaurants.

The only time I enjoyed lamb was when this chef visited a friend of ours and made lamb-burgers with mint. They were excellent.

But then I came across Jaffrey's excellent Indian lamb cubes.

Spicy Indian Lamb Cubes

3 tablespoon oil, 1.5" ginger, 4cl fine chopped garlic, 15 curry leaves if you can find them, 1# lamb 1" cubes, 2 teaspoon garam masala, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, .25 teaspoon turmeric, .25 teaspoon pepper, 1 gr chopped chili, .5 teaspoon salt, black pepper, 1.5-2 teaspoon lemon juice

Heat oil in a pan at medium-high. Add ginger, garlic, curry, and stir. Add lamb, cut the heat to medium low. Add the garam masala, ground cumin, turmeric, pepper, chili, salt. Add .75C water, cover the pan, and simmer gently 50min. Then add black pepper, lemon juice and serve it forth.
And they are spicy, not gamy, and delicious.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pasta alla Mafia

As I said in my last post, I've been cooking from Anna Del Conte's Portrait of Pasta, a nice book. I borrowed it years ago from the library, made the Horace pasta and another one, both were excellent, then returned the book and didn't make the Horace pasta for a while. I didn't know I copied the recipe into a file on my computer. So recently I checked and found the file. I like chickpeas, and leeks are nice because they keep for a while in the fridge. Then just a few days ago I saw a copy online for $1.25 shipped so I bought it.

The recipe I made last night is in del Conte's ``modern'' recipes section. She calls it Pasta alla Mafia because of its Sicilian origin but doesn't explain the title beyond that. I've always had a fascination with the Mafia, with all gangsters. Three of my favorite movies are John Woo's ``A Better Tomorrow'' trilogy.

(3:03 is a classic shot. But looks like you can watch the whole thing on Youtube now. Which I might do. A Better Tomorrow has scenes in Hong Kong restaurants, it makes me want to make Chinese food again. But I'm prevented. Maybe I should go through that list of recipes that don't use many Chinese ingredients from Dunlop a little more tonight.)

So back to Pasta alla Mafia. I visited Sicily once, I kept thinking whether to go to Corleone or not, in the end we didn't. Not that anyone would mistake us for Mafiosi. But many parts of Sicily were beautiful. I remember walking around in Palermo behind our hotel, which near the Quattro Canti, trying to reach the harbor to get on a hydrofoil to some island, the buildings were old, run-down, but full of character. A little like Napoli --- the pizza in Napoli was monumental.

For this Sicilian recipe you need anchovies. Anchovies have been defamed in the United States. This is probably due to incompetence. Anchovies are probably awful if you don't know what to do with them; I know what to do with them, and because I learned from Hazan, I've never tasted a bad dish with anchovies in it --- in fact I've tasted few bad dishes at all. But I remember when I was a kid and would've parroted the idea that anchovies are awful to anyone who asked me. Only the UK eats worse than us here in the US --- the Italians and French know what to do with anchovies. But ignorance is hard to overcome. If you don't want to use anchovies in this recipe, leave them out. Put in canned tuna instead if that makes you feel better. If you want to learn to use this fine ingredient, then my advice is to get a glass jar of imported Italian anchovy fillets in olive oil. I keep mine in the fridge but I doubt it's necessary.

Pasta alla Mafia

You need anchovies, pitted olives, chilies, citrus rind/zest, spaghetti, garlic, olio. You take the citrus rind and zest and put them in a saucepan with the olio and let it mingle. Bring the pasta water to a boil. Chop the chilies, garlic and olives. Add the chilies and garlic to the oil. Throw the pasta into the water, take out the citrus rind and heat the pan. When the oil is hot, add the anchovies, and mash them up with a wooden spoon until they're just a paste. Add the olives. When the pasta done, toss everything together.