Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Summer Sunshine for the New Year

Chicken Corn Soup

One of my favorite rituals is hanging up new calendars. All the promise of a New Year, held in your hand and hung on the wall; the illusion that the way we order and divide time matters. Or maybe the allure lies in just being able to flip ahead from January to June and be reassured that summer is just a few page turns away.

It’s important to believe in that possibility on days when the sun sets at 4pm. And it can be vital to eat something restorative and colorful at this time of year – something like Chicken Corn Soup. Who can think of corn without thinking of sunshine?

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Seeking New Traditions: Indian Food

Recipe: Chicken with Red Chilies

K.M. and I tend to make the same few Indian favorites, over and over again. Chicken Rolls, Chicken with Almonds and Sultanas, and Shrimp in a Dark Sauce, (both from Madhur Jaffery’s Indian Cooking), and Alu Kabli. They are all spectacular dishes – but how did we end up reducing the cooking of one of the worlds’ most vibrant and interesting countries down to four dishes?

It’s not like K.M. grew up eating just these four dishes. Not one of them is even a Bengali recipe. So one of my goals for the New Year is to break out of the rut – use the cookbooks I have and look for some new ideas. I went to a food photography workshop back in November and was lucky enough to meet Sala – the talent behind the blog Veggie Belly. I was blown away by her photos and her Indian recipes – and I’m excited to start cooking from her blog.

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A Five Dollar Fairy Tale

Recipe:Black Bean Soup with Roasted Corn and Indian Spices

Slow food shouldn’t have to cost more than fast food. This was the tag line for Slow Food USA‘s recent $5 challenge: sharing a fresh, healthy meal with loved ones, friends, or strangers for less than $5 a person.

I’m not sure how much of a challenge it was – the reality is that anyone who participated in the challenge, is probably already a slow food cook; someone who has the knowledge, access,
resources and the time to cook from scratch with real ingredients. If you work a 16 hours just to make ends meet, or live in a food dessert, a cooking challenge from Slow Food USA is about as interesting as a green energy tax credit. It’s a fairy tale.

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Moving Plants to Center Stage

Recipe: Cold Carrot Soup with Chilies and Avocados

The first time I tried vegetarian cooking, it was a trial by fire. My mother-in-law was coming to visit from India, and at that time was a full-fledged vegetarian.  This was in 1996, in East Central Illinois; a place where a grocery clerk once asked K.M. why he was buying fresh spinach, when you could “get that in a can.”

I had no idea what I was doing. We muddled through, eating a lot of pasta.  Eating out, in that time and place was nearly impossible.  People actually would say things like, “Well, it’s nearly vegetarian. You can pick the bacon out.”

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Take This Sausage and Stuff It

Recipe: Blazing Hot Turkey Sausage

Failure is always an option. The Mythbusters slogan, coined by Adam Savage, is meant to show the value of failure in science – as long as you get good data no experiment is a failure. In cooking though, sometimes failure is just failure. Most of the time failures get eaten anyway; but not every time.

My duck sausage for this month’s Charcutepalooza challenge was a spectacular fail. Fifty dollars’ worth of duck, three days in the making; it had the texture of overcooked cornmeal, and tasted like cardboard – with a hit of orange.

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One Sticky Bun To Rule Them All

Common sense should have kept me from trying to adapt  a recipe for pineapple pie. You’d think I’d know by now that if it is crucial to the outcome of a recipe that the ingredients thicken properly  the best thing I can do is stick to the original version.

But then, you’d also think that I’d know by now that nothing good happens when I put too much hot liquid in the food processor or the blender.

What I do know is that if your food processor shoots hot pineapple-mango custard all over the kitchen, the two most important things to do are to a) get out of the way, and b) thoroughly clean up the mess, no matter how upset you are. Should the custard harden on the base of the food processor, or say, on the side of your refrigerator you’ll not only be disgusted  every time you see it, (and you will never be able to get it off) you’ll also be haunted by failure.

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Going Whole Hog

Salmon and trout, cured and smoked.

The parking lot was dark and deserted. I’ve already been waiting 10 minutes, with my engine and headlights off when the beat-up white van pulls up. I get out of my car. A man dressed in black clothing, wearing a black ski mask gets out the back of the van; in his hands my six pounds of pork belly.  I handed him my cash and he gives me my meat. No words are exchanged.

For the sake of Charcutepalozza, I’ve found my way to the world of underground meat.

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