Lunch

I spent the evening browsing and wandering around The Elliot Bay Book Company, my favourite place in Seattle. It is a dream. A large warehouse like space. Rows of wooden bookshelves. Even three rows of essays and criticism. And staff recommendations that are generally right on the money. I often take a look at their food section and read a snippet or two out of M.F.K Fisher’s collected works. Her letters and essays are so stylish. Her diction and wit immediately make my own day’s work on my dissertation feel dowdy and dull. I mean, why couldn’t I some how come up with the title How to Cook a Wolf? Best case scenario: overwhelmed by her finesse I sit down in a corner and begin scribbling ideas that have been slow to form all day.

Anyway, today my perusing led me to a little red cookbook charmingly titled Lunch at the Shop: The Art and Practice of the Midday Meal by Seattle-based Peter Miller. Miller’s design bookstore on second avenue has been around for years and in this lush book he chronicles the pleasures of snatched culinary minutes over a shared midday meal. The setting is a long wooden table around which his colleagues gather. There is no microwave, no big to-do. Instead you can imagine tartines, smeared with tuna and avocado, sprinkled with olive oil or whatever your fridge might offer in the way of cold cuts and such. Hot coffee wafting out of thermoses. Maybe even last night’s meatballs stuffed into fresh baguettes. I would buy the book just for the introduction, the most wonderful manifesto to unpretentious eating for a city that is, I sometimes feel, an infuriatingly pretentious place.

I also perused and purchased best Food Writing, 2013. The essays are ridiculously good, a potential coffee table book (with no photographs) too difficult to pass up. After dinner this evening, I entertained myself by reading an essay by Corby Kummer originally published in The Atlantic. The essay is marvelously titled “Tyranny: It’s What’s For Dinner.” Ha. Too true. Nothing makes my reliably robust appetite plummet more than a starchy waiter or chef or server or maitre-d being pedantic about pronunciation or catty about my choice of wine. Kummer’s wry observations about tasting menus and molecular gastronomy are welcome to a person like me who loves the pleasure of eating more than I love to instagram, or namedrop the latest restaurant I went to for dinner, or drone on endlessly about some new food trend. Harissa. Hominy. Whathaveyou.

My lunch fortuitously was a simple scallion omelet with a spring salad. On a charming ceramic plate made by my mother Anupama Pant at Earth to Fire. It was delicious.

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I’m Back!

It’s been over six months since I last posted! That’s because I’ve been busy cooking and eating… and finishing writing my dissertation. But I’m rolling up my sleeves and will be back to posting regularly. Here’s a sampling of the last six months in my kitchen…

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Summer Peach Crostata

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Everyone makes a big deal about pastry. The butter has to be cold. The water has to be iced. You can’t overwork the dough. Pastry recipes always sound like a disaster waiting to happen. They seem to be rolling their eyes and telling you to head to a bakery (where they know what they’re doing) and eat a croissant.

You can imagine my surprise when I came across a recipe for a crostata that encourages winging the measurements and sprinkling a dash of this and shaking the bowl and just doing what feels natural. The more rustic looking the better.

A crostata is an Italian free-form tart and is perfect for piling high with summer fruit. The pastry is buttery and flaky and steals the show.

I opted for a peach tart. Tossed with a tablespoon of brown sugar and a splash of lemon juice. I sprinkled a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg. And just a hint to complement the lemon juice. Not to make the tart taste anything but of golden peaches.

For the Pastry
adapted from rebeccagaletta at Food52.com

Ingredients
2 Cups Flour
Dash of Salt
1 Tbsp Sugar
1 1/2 Sticks Chilled Butter
1/2 Cup of Water with three ice cubes

Preheat oven to 400 F. Position wrack in the middle of the oven.

1. Whisk flour, salt and sugar together.

2. Slice the sticks of butter into pieces to make it easier to mix.

3. Cut the butter into the flour mixture. I used my hands. Press butter into the flour with your fingers, leaving uneven chunks of butter in the mixture (the largest piece can be the size of a pea). These chunk make the pastry flaky.

4. Pat into a ball of dough. Tightly wrap with cling film and chill in the fridge for thirty minutes.

5. Roll the dough out on a floured surface into a disk. Rebeccagaletta recommends a disk 1/8 of an inch thick. Mine was slightly thicker, but it still turned out perfectly delicious. Leave 1 1/2 inches at the edges for folding over fruit filling. Gently pick up pastry and transfer to a lined baking sheet or pie tin.

6. Fill with fruit and fold. The more rustic looking the better.

7. Before baking, brush with a beaten egg diluted with a little water.

8. Bake for 45 minutes. Keep in mind that berries need less cooking time so add half way through the baking process. You can bake the pie for a little less or a little longer depending on how you like your crust.

9. Take out of the oven, and immediately slide the crostata onto a cooling wrack so that the bottom doesn’t get soggy.

10. Serve with a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

Perfect the next day with morning coffee.

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Thai Basil Chicken

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One of my favouritest people, A,  loves Thai food. And is a pretty talented home cook himself. This Thai Basil Chicken is inspired by a delicious meal he made for me. Here it is, pictured below. It was a wonderfully balanced plate: basil chicken (top left), sticky rice, and a divine beef salad (bottom right). The chicken had sweet notes of basil offset by fiery bird’s eye chillies; and the beef salad was spicy and had the tanginess of generous amounts of lime juice. A. knows his way around the staples of Thai cuisine, and knew not to overdo the fish sauce. It was fun watching him cook, and I’ve been wanting to recreate the meal he made me ever since.

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Though my mother makes thai food often, I am yet to build a relationship with fish sauce and oyster sauce and rice vinegar and lemon grass and galangal…but here goes! This is my third try at making this dish, and I think we have a winner. I consulted the amazing Thai food blog SheSimmers for this version. Instead of the ground meat that the traditional recipe calls for Leela suggests chopping up boneless chicken. I liked the texture much better.

The first couple of times I made it I got the cooking technique wrong. Rather than a braise, this is more a quick stir-fry. High heat, a dash of this and that, and onto a plate ready to go. Though not as good as A’s :), and no match for the overused, deliciously coated wok of a street stall, this version has the delicious taste of charred onions and garlic deglazed with fish and soy sauce. I had to scrape the pan for the juicy bits.

A fringe benefit of this foray was the opportunity to visit our local Asian grocery store. Though I stepped in only for a couple of things, I had a fun time looking through the isle of five hundred billion different kinds of noodles, dehydrated mushrooms, and the bric a brac of stainless steal and cheap porcelain plates, soup spoons and dishes. I couldn’t resist buying a box of bamboo chopsticks.

The recipe below is based on several recipes. Leela at SheSimmers tells us that it’s not Pad Ka-Phrao (Thai Basil Chicken) if we use sweet basil leaves, as I have done. She says that authentic Pad Ka Phrao is made with holy basil, which you can identify by its jagged edges. She also calls for oyster sauce and two kinds of soy sauces. After trying out different combinations, I found that this simplified version gets great, tasty results. And I’m no purist.

Thai Basil Chicken
(serves 2)

Ingredients 

4 Bird’s Eye Chillies + 1/2 Onion, chopped + 2 cloves garlic, slicedIMG_0794

+ 1/2 Cup Thai Basil, chopped

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+ 1/2 tbsp Fish Sauce (Three Crabs Brand- the best according to Kylie Kwong)

+ 1 tsp Soy Sauce

+ 3 boneless chicken thighs, chopped

1. On medium heat, fry onions, garlic and chillies together till the onions are caramelized and the mixture forms a paste.

2. Turn the heat up a bit and deglaze the pan (and mixture) with the fish and soy sauces.

3. Add the chopped, boneless chicken pieces and stir fry on hight heat, until cooked through (about 15 minutes). It’s important to chop the chicken into small pieces so they cook through quickly. Add small amounts of water if the pan begins to burn. I held off on the water and stirred the mixture well. I think the charred onion bits are delicious!

4. Turn the heat off and add the torn pieces of basil into the pan. Let wilt.

5. Serve immediately over rice.

Kofta Curry

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Today I had an intense craving for Kofta Curry. My mother makes a mean version. And in my imagination it is even more delicious in the dampness of the monsoon. It was 30 degrees C today and then we had some unexpected, beautiful, warm afternoon rain.  It felt like I was home in Bombay.

Yesterday, I received Yotam Ottolenghi’s and Sami Tamimi’s amazing cookbook Jerusalem in the mail. I’ve been eyeing it ever since it was published this past october. I can’t wait to start cooking from it. Their book showcases the incredible diversity of Jerusalem cuisine: did you know Uzbek Jews make a ‘plov’ so reminiscent of an Indian pulao? One note that shines through is the use of fresh herbs. The recipes are all about greens–parsley, coriander, mint, dill. Yotam Ottolenghi owns several restaurants in London, including Nopi, a high-end restaurant in London. The recipes, which he develops with friend and collaborator Tamimi, have classic middle eastern flavors. But they also have flare–they are stylish and interesting. It struck me today that so much of the freshness of their approach comes from an emphasis on fresh herbs.

I decided to use a similar approach for a classic Indian Kofta curry, substituting fresh coriander leaves for the ground coriander seed that is usually called for in most curries. I did add a dash of ground turmuric (great for memory) and a dash of cumin and cayenne. But the emphasis is on the beef, coriander, and lemon.

I didn’t have red onions on hand so I substituted spring onions, which only added to the brightness of the curry.

This curry has delicate, mild flavors and a wonderful earthiness from the fresh coriander leaves and stem.

Recipe
Serves 2

Ingredients
1/2 pound ground beef
1 bunch green onions or scallions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh coriander (leaves and stem) roughly chopped+ 1 tbsp chopped coriander for garnish
1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper or kashmiri chilly powder
2 plum tomatos
1 cup water

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1. In a bowl, combine 1/4 of the chopped scallions, 1/2 cup of coriander and ground beef. Add the juice of half a lemon and mix well.

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2. Form into meatballs.IMG_0783

3. On high heat, sear the meatballs on all sides for two minutes to seal the juices. Set aside.IMG_0782

4. In the same pan, add the remaining scallions and garlic and saute for five minutes, until translucent on a medium flame. Add the turmeric, cumin, cayenne and 1 cup of chopped coriander. Saute for 3 minutes.

5. Add the tomatos and 1 cup of water. Mix well.

6. Then return meatballs to the pan. Adjust for salt.

7. Bring to a boil. Then turn the flame down, partially cover and cook for 30 minutes until the curry comes together.

8. Garnish with coriander.

9. Serve over rice with a cucumber raita.

Ales for Outlaws

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Ales for Outlaws is the motto of the Lonerider Brewery (LRB) in Raleigh, North Carolina. Who ever writes copy for them is just a genius. There’s no two ways about it. LRB distinguishes its philosophy with lines like “Lonerider wears an air of mystery the way others wear cheap cologne.” They have a new IPA called Cowboy in Black.

I’ll be honest. Beer is really not my thing. During the summer or at the beach, it’s the only thing I want. But in a palette-suspended way. My finger’s are crossed and I’m hoping for inoffensive.

Recently, I had drinks with some beer enthusiasts. You know, the kind of crowd where the hoppier the better. I was won over by the adjectives. Beyond the hop, there’s a world of empirical experience to be had. There are notes of chocolate to pick out, and citrusy hues to identify. Beers can be malty, biscuity and autumnal. A beer can be juniper-like or grassy. And if it’s from a brewery like LRB, it can be called Shot Gun Betty.

Like LRB, Raleigh-Durham has a crop of micro-breweries that offer an excellent range for the beginner’s palette. They’re unpretentious affairs. And they’re perfect for Durham, summer weekends with friends.

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We tried a bunch of local favourites: Shotgun Betty, a Hefeweizen (pictured in the poster below); Peacemaker, a Pale Ale; Sweet Josie, a Brown Ale; True Britt, an English Style Ale; and the brewer’s choice, a Weizenbock. My favourite is a saison called the Preacher. It is light and lively like a wheat beer, but it has a spicy kick. Though I probably wouldn’t order the Sweet Josie–it’s much too bitter for me–it has a burst of fantastic flavor, with notes of chocolate.

Thanks to my friend J., for her excellent company and fabulous beer imagination!

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IMG_0727The Hideout,  Raleigh, NC

Pike Place Market

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Seattle’s iconic Pike Place Market is the perfect place to while away a (rare) sunny afternoon. It has gorgeous views of the Sound, which is a rippling, blue-gold today. The fish mongers know they’re on display and give the crowds a good show. Pearly pink scallops and bright orange crab claws sit in buckets of ice. Silvery oysters and other assorted crustaceans. And whole and filleted Pacific fish line display counters.IMG_0707IMG_0710 
There are flowers, too.

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And beautiful crates of fresh produce.

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One of my favorite places to get a quick bite is DeLaurenti’s lunch counter. The offerings are simple and classic. My favourite is a slice of the daily primo (pizza). Today I order the meat option, fresh from the oven: prosciutto, blue cheese, red onion, arugula and mozzarella. Exquisite. And then a wander about cupboards and shelves crammed with vinegars and pasta and spices and juicy pickles…

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