28 November 2009

Overcoming My Fear of Indian Food

What do you fear most in the kitchen? Is there a particular cuisine or method of cooking that you really would like to try, but you fear to make on your own? Is it extra sad because you love to eat that particular food?

My fear: Indian food. I feel so silly admitting it, especially since my sister cooks it all the freaking time. I am sure part of my fear is due to my inexperience with enjoying Indian food. It is a giant country, and I have only recently discovered a love for certain types of Indian cuisine. Specifically, there is a lovely vegetarian Indian restaurant that I found with a friend in the past couple of years that has opened a world of possibilities to me.

I have been to several Indian restaurants, and none of them have ever moved me. None of them were vegetarian. I wonder if that is only a coincidence or the reason why I love the Banana Leaf restaurant here in Columbus. I know for sure that Banana Leaf is an excellent restaurant - I have had several experienced lovers of Indian food assure me that it is outstanding food. Honestly it was a relief to hear it was as good as I thought since I've had nothing comparable before.

It is safe to say that this restaurant has made me far more open-minded about trying Indian food. My sister made me an incredible feast inspired by a trip to Banana Leaf earlier this summer. It was delicious, and I felt somewhat confident afterward that I would be able to re-create our meal. But it wasn't until I saw a recent post by Kathy B on the CLBB about using stew meat that I was truly inspired to cook an Indian meal at home. Yes, I see the irony in me waxing poetic about eating vegetarian Indian food and then segueing into cooking an Indian pot roast.

Browning the meat thoroughly is very important to the finished flavor.

This dish is perfect for a cool autumn day. It was very easy to throw together with mostly pantry ingredients (I only had to restock my yogurt supply and buy stew meat). The beef falls apart and melts in your mouth. The Indian flavors are mild, and the yogurt combines with the beef juices to make a rich sauce. I loved eating this with a bit of naan and mango chutney. I also made the cauliflower and peas dish that my sister taught me how to make earlier this summer. It was the perfect accompaniment to the beef.

Fresh from the oven before stirring.

Check out Laura's blog for the Sauteed Cauliflower and Peas.

Beef Baked with Yoghurt and Black Pepper

Source: Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking

6 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 lbs. boneless stewing beef cut into 1-1/2 in. cubes
3 med. onions, peeled and minced
6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 tsp. dried powdered ginger
1/8-1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 Tbsp. paprika
2 tsps. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1-1/4 c. plain yoghurt, beaten lightly

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (I cooked mine at more like 275 degrees for 3+ hours)

Heat the oil in a wide, flameproof casserole-type pot over a med-high flame. When hot, put in as many meat pieces as the pot will hold easily in a single layer. Brown all the meat this way, then remove.

Put onions and garlic into the same pot and turn the heat down to medium. Stir and fry the onion-garlic mixture for about 10 minutes or until it has browned. Now put in the browned meat as well as any juices that might have accumulated in the plate. Also put in the ginger, cayenne, paprika, salt, and pepper. Stir for a minute. Now put in the yoghurt and bring to a simmer. Cover tightly, first with aluminum foill and then with a lid, and bake in the oven 1-1/2 hours. The meat should be tender by now. If it is not tender, pour in 1/2 c. boiling water, cover tightly, and bake another 20-30 minutes or until meat is tender. Stir meat gently before serving.
Serve with chapatis or another bread, or with a moist rice pullao.

Serves 4-6

18 November 2009

Can you handle more canning?

In my canning bonanza, I became obsessed with canning cookbooks as I have mentioned. I still want more- as a cookbook collector, there is always room for another cookbook or two- but I think I have found my bible. Seriously. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in canning, whether a novice or expert. The Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving by Judi Kingry and Lauren Devine is just that- the complete book for everything home preserving (slightly redundant, but it is so true!). I think many people suggest the Ball Blue Book as the sort of entry level resource for canning. And I cannot disagree, it was the first canning book I owned and it has taught me the basics. But for more or less the price of one hard-cover cookbook, you could own both the Ball Blue Book and the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I think these two cookbooks would be one of the best investments you could ever make if you were really interested in canning.

(No, I am not employed by Ball. I just feel really strongly about their product. It is of the highest quality and explains both the science behind canning as well as the artistry. I feel comfortable with the knowledge I have gleaned from these books- as well as my Mom- that I won't make anyone sick with canning, which is a pretty reasonable fear for first-time-canners. The reason Ball is still around after a zillion years is that they do canning best! Check out their website for additional information on canning. I am sure you will become addicted to canning and home preserving like me.)

Okay, now that my sales pitch on canning is over, I must tell you about these pickles I made. They are vinegary and a touch spicy, very simple and perfect on top of a salad. I haven't made it beyond the salad because I like it so much. I am sure these would be lovely on a cheese platter as a sour component. I adore the cauliflower in this recipe. It is the highlight of the pickles, so of course I adjusted the amount of cauliflower to suit my tastes.

Spicy Pickle Mix
adapted from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving

Makes about 6 pint jars

8 cups cauliflower florets
2 cups poblano peppers, seeded and cut into strips
1 cup sliced, peeled carrots
2/3 cup pickling or canning salt
8 1/2 cups water, divided
3 1/2 cups sliced hot pepper rings (I used serrano peppers)
1 clove garlic
8 1/2 cups white vinegar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp prepared horseradish

1. In a large glass or stainless steel bowl, combine the cauliflower, poblano peppers and carrots.
2. In another large glass or stainless steel bowl, dissolve pickling salt in 7 cups of the water. Pour over vegetables. Cover and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
3. Meanwhile, prepare canner, jars and lids.
4. In a colander placed over a sink, drain vegetables. Rinse with cool running water and drain thoroughly. Add hot pepper rings and mix well.
5. In a large stainless steel saucepan, combine garlic, remaining 1 1/2 cups water, vinegar, sugar and horseradish. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Reduce heat and boil gently for 15 minutes, until liquid is infused with garlic flavor. Discard garlic clove.
6. Pack vegetables into hot jars to within a generous 1/2 inch of top of jar. Ladle hot pickling liquid into jar to cover vegetables, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace, if necessary, by adding hot pickling liquid. Wipe rim. Center lid on jar. Screw band down until resistance is met, then increase to fingertip-tight.
7. Place jars in canner, ensuring they are completely covered with water. Bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove canner lid. Wait for 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool and store.

10 November 2009

Look at what I found!

I made a couple new acquaintances this weekend at a fundraiser for the Available Light Theatre. The fundraiser was an opportunity to shop to support the theatre group from some locally owned businesses, and I fell completely in love with the two crafty-chicks selling the most adorable stuff. Unfortunately I didn't bring enough cash with me to buy as much as I wanted... but fortunately the two crafty-chicks sell their stuff online and at local stores- woohoo!

Firstly, I think someone who loves to cook would love to check out this website, Made by AmyD. Amy is not only super friendly and charming but she also makes the most adorable aprons of all time - and she can make stuff to order if you are unusually shaped (or uniquely shaped as I like to think of myself...). I especially am in love with her aprons with the state of Ohio embroidered on the front. I think I am homesick in advance of moving, so everything Ohio is making me happy (or at least helping to calm my anxieties).

Also selling some very cute, kitschy Ohio stuff (like the sweetest journal made with an Ohio map as the cover! I am going to miss Ohio!) was Olivia from Wholly Craft. Who knew we had so many cool, locally owned stores selling handmade stuff in Columbus?! I need to pay more attention. Wholly Craft is a brick and mortar store on High Street, but be sure to check out their website for lots of information on classes and upcoming events at their store.

Anyway, I was just really impressed by how friendly these two ladies were - and the fact that I can head down to High Street in Columbus and buy lots of locally made gifts for Christmas! Yay for supporting local businesses!

Check out AmyD locally at the Kickstart at 913 North High St., Columbus, Ohio and visit Wholly Craft at 3169 North High St., Columbus, Ohio. (Make sure you visit their websites for hours cuz they can be a little funky.)

02 November 2009

The Best Pumpkin Bread (According to Dad)

Every year my father, (usually) brother and several friends head up to Northern Wisconsin to hunt. They have been doing this for over 10 years since they started when I was in college at University of Wisconsin (Go Badgers!). Through coincidence, poor planning or fatherly neglect, this trip has always been planned to coincide with my birthday. In fact, I cannot remember a time when my whole family was around for my birthday as a child. I assure you that I have not been permanently scarred by this neglect. Sometimes I think my sister has since she is always very affronted on my behalf. It is something I am just used to, and it really doesn't bug me too much.

It actually all ended up working out while I was away at college. I was over 8 hours away from home, and I was more homesick than you could ever understand. I never expected to be as homesick as I was, and lord knows I didn't tell anyone. I was embarrassed by my own inability to cope with missing my family. I would have continued to hide it from them if I could have, but my older brother happened to call me one October night and tell me that he missed me. He was watching some movie with "a bratty little sister" and he missed me. That was the end of my bravado. I think I burst into tears and managed to sob out to Chris how much I missed home. Now that I think about it, Chris is usually the sibling I want most when I am crying or upset. He can always calm me down - maybe I was just waiting to confess my fears and anxieties to him.

Anyway, back to the annual hunting trip. All of those missed childhood birthdays? They were totally made up for when I got to see my Dad and his friend, Dr. H, on my birthday. They would purposefully drive through Madison on their way to Northern Wisconsin to take me to dinner for my birthday. They usually managed to see me on my actual birthday, which was a great gift. Seeing my Dad for my birthday, talking to Chris, reading the letters that my Mom faithfully wrote got me through that homesickness. So when I think of their annual hunting trip, I automatically think of being away at school.

Now that I am back in Ohio, I like to send some food along with them for their week in the woods. My Mom always bakes bread, makes soup and chicken stock. She also bakes chocolate chip cookies that Chris loves. I have taken to making quick breads. I can pop them in the freezer so they are easy to transport, and they make a quick, delicious snack for the guys after being out in the cold hunting. This particular loaf is incredibly moist and flavorful. The tart bite of chopped, fresh cranberries is a pleasant counterpoint to the sweet pumpkin. My Dad's favorite part? The sugary topping with a delightful cinnamon bite. Make this bread and share it with someone you love - it is worth it.

Original recipe from The Gourmet Cookbook, but adapted from the Amateur Gourmet blog.

Pumpkin Apple Bread (with Cranberries)
makes 2 loaves, most of my adjustments came in the spice section - I increased them significantly
For topping:
1 Tbs all-purpose flour
5 Tbs sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 Tbs unsalted butter, softened

For bread:
3 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsps baking soda
3 tsps ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground ginger
1 (15-oz) can solid-pack pumpkin
3/4 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups sugar
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 Granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and chopped (2 cups) (I have substituted both 1 cup chopped apple, 1 cup chopped cranberries and 2 cups chopped cranberries for the 2 cups of apples)

MAKE THE TOPPING: Blend together flour, sugar, cinnamon, and butter in a small bowl with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal.

MAKE THE BREAD: Put a rack in the middle of oven and preheat oven to 350F. Butter two 9 X 5 inch loaf pans. Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and allspice into a medium bowl.Whisk together pumpkin, oil, sugar, and eggs in a large bowl. Add flour mixture, stirring until well combined. Fold in apples. Divide batter between buttered loaf pans. Sprinkle half of topping evenly over each loaf.
Bake until a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of bread comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool loves in pans on a rack for 45 minutes, then turn out onto rack and cool completely, about 1 hour.