Thursday, August 04, 2005

Organization

The other day I opened my spice cabinet and was beaned on the head by a falling jar of allspice. It fell not because it was a malevolent spice, but because there were so many crammed in jars of various herbs and spices that the poor thing had no recourse but to hit me to get my attention and try to convince me to improve its living standards. Clearly, I am really not the person to turn to when it comes to organization, but I did learn and implement something at the cooking class on Sunday.

Bhanu brought out this container of neatly labeled spices for us to use that day.
I asked her if she had set it up this way because she was traveling (she lives in San Francisco and was visiting her son) and she said that she has a bin just like this one at home (but with a few more spices).

It was so incredibly easy to use these spices--the little gladware containers were much easier to use than screwing and unscrewing endless jars and a tablespoon fit in easily. But best of all, once the lid is on the spice bin, you can shove it someplace out of the way, like on a bookshelf or under the sofa or maybe even in your kitchen if you don't clog up all your cabinet space with appliances like I do...I rarely need regular access to tumeric and fenugreek seeds except when cooking Indian food so when I got myself organized I excavated many jars from the spice cabinet (giving that desperate allspice a little room to stretch itself out), decanted them into little gladware containers, labeled them and popped them in the bin. Pretty much everything dried that I need to cook Indian recipes is now collected all together and also out of the way of the daily use stuff.

The kids will be sooooo happy tomorrow when I can actually find the cinnamon for their oatmeal without cursing up a storm.

So maybe I should take a lesson from this and try to organize all the hostile piles of paper that cover pretty much every horizontal surface in my house. But unfortunately there isn't any big reward to organizing paper--oh great I found 122 paid bills that should have been filed somewhere! Maybe I could synthesize some sort of reward for doing it, even if it was an unrelated reward. If I clean off one of the crapoires (a term lifted from Lynne for their armoire where they dump crap, though she only has one crapoire and in my house there are numerous crapoires to the point of almost calling the place a crapoireteria) then maybe I can try my hand at making vanilla gelato because I have a hankering for an affogato al caffe which is simply vanilla ice cream or gelato "drowned" in a couple of shots of espresso. (I looked for a photo on Flickr and amazingly there is no affogato tag! If I make one, I must photograph it and post it there...)

Or if I'm tired after organizing all that dreary dusty paper, maybe I'll just buy some vanilla ice cream and give my donkey brain its carrot without making the donkey grow the carrot from a damn seed.

I'm just not a non-fiction kind of gal

I'm trying really hard to appreciate the detailed research that clearly went into London: 1945 but I'm having a hard time following or even finding the momentum to the prose. I don't see how the NYTimes could call the book "thoroughly engrossing" when my perception of the first chapter was a long list of statistics, broken up with quotes by eye witnesses. I know history can be written in a more interesting fashion than this--I actually read the entirety of Stephen Ambrose's book about Lewis and Clark, Undaunted Courage and thought it was a terrific read (I wouldn't choose it over a good novel, but I would choose it over a crummy novel and that's pretty high praise for non-fiction coming from me).

I really wanted to like London: 1945 partly because I thought it might help me understand my somewhat unknowable mother (she doesn't intend to be unknowable, she's just British in that way). She was born in 1941 in London during the Blitz and I keep trying to imagine her as a 4 year old kid and my lovely grandmother trying to raise 3 young children in the city being described in the book. I've made it to chapter 3, but even with my own imaginative constructs supporting the book's narrative doldrums I don't think I'll be able to finish it before it is due back to the library (someone else has requested it so I can't renew.)

Besides there are other temptations on the horizon--the library just sent me an email that Ian McEwan's Saturday is being held for me. As pissy as I was when I found out that The New Yorker had published part of it as a short story, it was a damn fine short story and hopefully will be a damn fine novel.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Mango Lassi recipe

It looks like it is going to be another stinking hot day so here is the recipe for refreshing Mango Lassi. (Note: Brian did NOT clean out the blender until late last night--the bottom had been screwed on so damn tight that my wee little princess hands could not unscrew it to clean out the remnants of the coriander chutney--so I'll be making a pitcher full of Lassi today. And Brian will be lucky if there is any left over when he gets home...)

Bhanu Hajratwala's Mango Lassi
Serves 4 to 6

1 big can (30 oz) of sweetened mango pulp (Bhanu used Ratna Alphonso Mango Pulp which can be purchased for $2.99 a can at Foods of India and which is a hell of a lot simpler than peeling dicing and pureeing a whole bunch of really ripe mangos.)
3 cups of buttermilk
1 cup water
5 T sugar
pinch of saffron (optional, but recommended)

1. Blend all ingredients together. (Note: if your blender can't handle all the liquid at once--mine sure as hell can't--then put in half the mango, half the buttermilk, all the sugar and the pinch of saffron to make sure the sugar is dissolved and the saffron blended. Then you can add the rest of the mango, buttermilk and water to the blended stuff in a pitcher and just give it a good stir.)
2. Serve over ice or well chilled.


Don't you love a simple recipe sometimes? I don't know why every other Lassi recipe I've seen has been made with yogurt--the buttermilk is way better in it and the pinch of saffron is just brilliant. It gives it a little exotic aftertaste that is not really placeable, but really makes the Lassi special.

To go with my Lassi today, I show you these:
These gorgeous huge blackberries were picked off of some completely ignored canes in my front yard which were planted over ten years ago by the angelic former owner of our house. The woman achieved angel status in my book not only for providing me with fruit that thrives on neglect, but for stripping multiple layers of wallpaper off of pretty much every interior wall in the house. Maybe she should be elevated to goddess status...

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I can't Tikka my Aloo...

I've spent a lot of time in the kitchen today and after frying the onions to top the rice, I'm gonna stop. This means we will not be starting with our little potato appetizers because for the life of me I can't figure out how to get the mashed potato with its spices to hold together enough to make a little patty (which then has to be dipped in a garam batter and bread crumbs before frying--that means it has to be sturdy enough to be handled.)
Here is the mess I have made with my Aloo which refuses to be Tikka'd:
After at least a dozen tries I have one little misshapen patty and garam batter that is chock full of globs of potato. The bread crumbs have remained relatively unscathed but that's because most of the patties disintegrated in the batter phase...

Lest you forget what an Aloo Tikka should look like, I remind you of Bhanu's perfect little circles (well, it was perfect before I stuck my fork in it).
So I'm giving up on the Aloo Tikka for now. I would love suggestions from anyone who has managed to make these and get the potato to hold together.

We are eating well enough tonight even without our little potato patties; I managed to make the rice dish, chicken curry and coriander chutney. And if Brian will clean out the blender, I will make the Mango Lassi too. (Recipes coming soon, I promise.)

It has been a good day on other fronts because Fiona has done terrific with potty training, she pooped twice but her underpants have remained clean and dry all day and even the diaper that I put her in when we went out stayed dry. Girls have such great sphincter control--I think that should be printed on a T-shirt.

Indian feasting part 1

For those of you bored by my continual gluttony and reluctant to read through an invariably long-winded discussion of the Indian cooking class I took, I first present proof that I don't just spend my time stuffing my face:
Sometimes I do take a break and interrupt my hands from their regular plate-to-mouth route to play with yarn. On the left is the broadripple sock (I seem to have mastered my ick face and forgiven the yarn for the brief moments of dinge) and on the right is the start of my fern colored sleeve for my Ribby Cardigan. I'm knitting it in the round using Magic Loop and Denise interchangeable Needles. It would probably be a bit easier if I was using Addi Turbos since there wouldn't be the little stiff join to deal with. I also had to rip out the sleeve down to where the increases started because I realized that in translating the pattern from flat knitting to in-the-round I hadn't changed the location of the increases (the original budgeted in two stitches on either side of the increase for seaming). But with worsted weight yarn, the knitting goes so comparatively fast that I didn't even get very pissy about my mistake.

Now, back to food.
On Sunday I learned to make this:
Oh yea, and this too:
My friend Ami's co-worker Sarah's sister Heidi's Mother-in-Law (follow that?) Bhanu Hajratwala taught the class.

Here is Bhanu with her three-year-old assistant chapatti maker granddaughter Zoe:
I'm not going to do a blow by blow of the class right now (I think I'd be typing all day)--I'll save that for when I attempt to recreate the dishes at home. But I'll tempt you to come back by listing the menu:

Appetizer: Aloo Tikka (potato patties)
Drink: Mango Lassi
Salad: Layered Kachoombar
Rice: Shahi Vegetable Pulau (also known as Biryani)
Vegetable: Bhinda Bataka (okra)
Meat: Chicken Curry
Chutney: Fresh Coriander Chutney
Bread: Fresh Chappaties
Desert: Kopra Paak (coconut squares)

I plan to attempt to recreate all of the above except the salad and the desert.
I was underwhelmed by the salad--very pretty and jewel-like in the bowl, but not a hell of a lot of flavor, just sort of a cool crunch. I'd prefer a standard Raita; I think it cools down the chili heat better and tastes more interesting.

And Indian deserts and I just don't get along very well...they are so sweet they make me feel like I'm going to go into a diabetic coma after one taste.

Today I plan to hit the Indian grocery store Foods of India (much to my very pissy discovery Indian grocery stores in Ann Arbor are not open on Mondays....grrrr) and get some missing ingredients--fresh tumeric root, star anise, ghee--which will hopefully enable me to make at least the rice (probably my favorite thing from the menu we cooked) and the Lassi and possibly also the chicken curry and the aloo tikka, though the last two may have to wait for another day.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Snaussages

On Friday evening we had some folks over to sample chef Brian Polcyn's sausage making skill. (Polcyn is the chef and owner of the restaurant that I went to on my birthday in June--The Five Lakes Grill. If you missed my blow by blow recounting of that fabulous meal, you can look here.)

The restaurant's web site reports that they sell their house made sausages every Thursday for $7/lb. So on Thursday evening we went up to make our purchase. One word of advice--make sure you call ahead and ask to talk to someone in the kitchen about the sausages they have for retail. We did and even then it wasn't the smoothest transaction--I don't think very many people take them up on this sausage purchase idea because much of the staff seemed completely clueless when I showed up (I went in the back entrance--there is lots of parking behind the restaurant and I was looking pretty crappy and sweaty after a day with the entropy kids, so I didn't want to ruin any patron's dinner who might be unlucky enough to find themselves down wind from me...). It took at least 20 minutes to find the guy I had talked to on the phone, tell him what I wanted and receive the nicely wrapped meaty treasure. And then they had to find someone else for me to pay. Anyway, point being, bring your patience to the restaurant when you go to make your purchase.

Thankfully, the wait is well worth it.

There were three varieties available on Thursday and they were $6.25/lb rather than the $7 listed on the web site (no complaint there!). I bought about 2 lbs of Chicken Sundried Tomato sausages and 1 lb each of a Veal Hunters Sausage and a Veal Tuscan Sausage. The chicken sausages were raw, the veal sausages were fully cooked (though they did need some time on the grill to make them ready for eating).

Here are the chicken sausages posing on the grill (with a few Koegel's hot dogs for the kids):
And here is a little lump of chicken sausage ready for its close up:
Here are the veal offerings (Hunters on top, Tuscan on bottom):
And this is what my greedy-guts plate looked like:
The snaussages with their side dishes: Sarah's home grown tomatoes, basic red skin potato salad, and MJ's corn and barley salad.

And the tasting report? My favorite were the Chicken Sundried Tomato--a wonderful spice balance and nice and juicy. Second favorite was the Veal Tuscan--it was drier than the chicken (probably due to being precooked and just finished on the grill) and much richer, almost too rich for my taste. Again, a nice spice balance. Third place was the Veal Hunters--this is a smoked sausage and it was just too intense for me. I like smoked food a lot, but I had a hard time tasting any other flavor the smoke was so intense. And again, too rich for me. I think it would probably make a great ingredient when combined with other foods, but I probably wouldn't make it on its own again.

For desert we dished up a bit of the chocolate orange sorbet and made it a complete Bittman desert by serving it with his basic brownie recipe which is super fudgy and rich (and not for folks who want their brownies big and cakey). I promise a full brownie blog with the recipe soon.
Brian is still in Lebowski fest mode and mixed up White Russians (aka Caucasians) for anyone who wanted one as a dessert beverage.

Now I need to get my butt in gear and drive out to Saline for an Indian cooking class my friend John helped organize. Not to worry, a report will be coming soon.