Adventures in Culinary Assembly Or, Spicy Avocado Chutney

I went to New Orleans last week and did a lot of this:

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So, upon returning I decided that it was time for a little detox.

I signed up for yoga, I upped my water intake (a quart a day as opposed to the…nothing a day I was drinking) and I decided to eat more raw vegetables.

You would think that this wouldn’t be a problem for a vegetarian, right? I mean, what the hell do vegetarians eat if not shitloads of raw vegetables?

We eat bread, dudes. We eat bread and fried okra and great big slices of pizza where the mozzarella melts into the sauce giving it this transcendent creamy quality and risotto with fistfuls of parmesan and chilaquiles and cheese fries and ALL THINGS DELICIOUS.

You know what I don’t eat? Baby carrots sticks dunked in hummus or low-fat ranch dressing because they taste like crushing loneliness.

Luckily, my favorite food in this world happens to be The Good Salad.

The Good Salad is not one of those wanky afterthoughts with bagged iceberg, some watery tomatoes and bottled Italian.

It is the Garden of Eden in a bowl.
It is rife and resplendent with a bountiful cornucopia of different tastes and textures.
It is a night with George Clooney as it will leave you happy and completely satisfied.

I whipped one up tonight for dinner and figured Southwestern was a good way to go because Southwestern is always a good way to go. I made a quick salsa (tomatoes, corn, onion, lime juice and salt) and tossed it in a bowl with some black beans and kale.

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So far, so good.

I had no clue how to dress the thing so I did what all grown adults do when confronted with an issue.

I called my mom.

I know everyone thinks their mom is a great cook but mine is pretty much an alchemist when it comes to spices. She makes a lilli chutney (the green stuff made of coriander) so delicious, I would punch you in the throat to get at it…and I like you. And her pickled lemons? I cannot even.

I lose the ability to even when confronted with the glory that are pickled lemons.

So, I call Mom and we have the following conversation.

Me: So, I got the stuff for the salad but I don’t know what to do about the dressing. I think I want it to be like that avocado salsa from Tacos al Carbon.
Mom (with barely-conceal disgust in her voice because Mom doesn’t trust “outside food” much less “outside food” that came from a sketchy taco truck): I don’t know what that is.
Me: Think lili chutney but with avocados.
Mom: Oh, that’s easier than lili chutney. Buy the avocado and I’ll make it for you.

Ethnic mothers – they exist to feed their offspring.

So, to make Mom’s Avocado Chutney, you will need:

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1 avocado
1/2 jalapeno pepper (ours was hot)
1/4 cup cilantro (not pictured)
Lime juice to taste
Salt and sugar (not pictured)

Stick all ingredients in a blender and hit puree. It’s gonna be pretty thick so drizzle in small amounts of water until you reach the desired consistency. Some people like a thicker chutney while others prefer something a little more runny.

Yeah. It’s that easy.

I drizzled it over my salad and like most things that come out of my mom’s kitchen – it was magical.

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The finished product is fresh, bright, spicy and creamy – it’s a delicious condiment and involves way less petty theft than me stealing plastic drizzle bottles from my local taco joint…which I’ve considered doing on numerous occasions.

If you’re looking to detox from the holidays but also want to eat like a goddamn boss – make The Good Salad. There are no rules to it – it’s organized chaos. In a bowl. That you can eat.

Cuckoo for cukes? Toss ’em in there.
Chickpeas make your skirt fly up? Crack open a can, drain that bastard and go to town.
Dig on some celery? Dude, no. Just no. What’s wrong with you, man? Celery tastes good IN things but you don’t eat it raw. Jesus…

If you decide to make the spicy avocado chutney, please let me know so I can tell Mom. She’ll be kind of stoked to know that people who read, “that thing on the internet where you curse too much,” like her more than they like me.

Just like real life.

Eat well. Be happy.

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Adventures In Culinary Assembly Or, Risi e Bisi

I’m English for the following reasons:

– My passport says I am.
– Nothing will never be funnier than Blackadder (“I am a busy man and I can’t be bothered to punch you at the moment. Here is my fist. Kindly run towards it as fast as you can.”)
– I eat things like cheese and pickle sandwiches, blackcurrant sweeties, chip butties and Twiglets with a zombie-like ferocity.

However, my favorite English food is the magnificent yet humble pea.

Much like Prince, I like ’em fat. I like ’em round.

I also like ’em mushy, when served alongside aloo and paneer, in soup, fried with chili, lime and cumin and even frozen straight out of the bag.

Peas taste like home.

And while it’s not English, risi e bisi is the most comforting of all comfort food. It’s pretty much a hug for your mouth.

Everyone needs a hug.

Risi e bisi is basically risotto with peas. Nothing fancy, nothing special. Just a slow-cooked meal for a cold winter night.

Let’s start off with the most important part of our adventure – the music.

I’ve had a long day at work. It’s dark. It’s cold and I’m tired. All I want is to be cozy and this is accomplished by putting on my pajama pants and my ancient UCF tee and playing Jamie Cullum on Spotify. Particularly, his excellent cover of Radiohead’s High and Dry.

You Will Need:

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– 1 quart vegetable stock
– 1 cup arborio rice
– 1 cup frozen peas
– 2 cloves of garlic
– 1/2 cup parmesan cheese (don’t hate. It was the only kind I had in the house)
– 1 cup white wine
– Fresh parsley
– A couple of solid glugs olive oil

Bring your stock to a slow simmer in a small pot.

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In a larger pot, add a couple of glugs of olive oil and heat.

Add two cloves of roughly-chopped garlic.

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Add your rice and toast for about two minutes.

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You’ll know it’s ready because of the wonderful nutty smell that makes you wanna shove your face into the pan.

Don’t do that.

Instead, add a ladleful of warm stock, stir and when the rice starts to get dry, add another ladle of stock.

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Think of this as an exercise in meditation.

Ladle and stir. Ladle and stir. Wax on, wax off.

Add your wine and stir.

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When most of the liquid has been absorbed, add your peas and parmesan.

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Stir for about a minute and serve immediately.

Garnish with a little fresh parsley and it’s time to eat!

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Final Verdict:

This is happening in my mouth right now:

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Warm and salty and cheesy with little pops of sweetness from the peas, this is comfort food. You can keep your mashed potatoes and mac and cheese. All this girl needs is a little risi e bisi, a blanket and an episode of Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and it’s a good night.

I hope you make it and if you do, please let me know what you think.

(Also! Leftovers! Leave them in the fridge overnight and the next day, form them into little patties and pan fry to make faux arancini. So good, dudes. So good)

30 Before 30 Or, #5 – Dinner and A Movie – The Godfather II and Spaghetti alla puttanesca

Last year, I watched The Godfather and made a spaghetti pomodoro that was so good, I inhaled it before I was five minutes into the picture.

So for The Godfather II – a bigger, bolder film — I decided to make a bigger, bolder pasta dish.

Spaghetti alla puttanesca.

In Italian, the dish translates to Whore’s Style Spaghetti and there are several apocryphal stories as to its name:

The bold, spicy scent would lure in new customers.
It’s a dish composed of pantry staples that would be easy to whip up between appointments
It’s bold, pungent and spicy much like the creator of the dish…

I don’t know what the true story behind it is and I don’t really care. What I do care about is diving into an absurdly large amount of this spicy, garlicky dish while watching a cinema classic.

As usual, the music is the most important part of an culinary adventure and today, I’m kinda feeling The Black Keys – smoldering and salt-crusted, these boys are welcome in my kitchen any time.

Let’s get started, shall we?

You will need:

1 teaspoon of crushed chili pepper — My general rule when it comes to pepper is eyeball it. More if you’re any sort of real man; less if you’re some whimpering baby child.
1/4 cup of pitted black olives
1 14oz can of crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot
3 cloves of garlic
1 serving angel hair pasta
Parmesan cheese to taste

Two notes:

One –

Traditionally, spaghetti alla puttanesca contains anchovies.
Being a vegetarian, I don’t eat anchovies.
I do, however, guzzle gallons of Worcestershire Sauce.

Yup. I’m a hypocrite.
Just like Michael Corleone.

Two –

You’re going to have leftovers when it comes to the sauce. No fear because tomorrow morning, you can make Uova in Purgatorio or Eggs in Purgatory. A poetic name for eggs poached in delicious, delicious tomato sauce.

Let’s get cooking, shall we?

Slice up the garlic and shallot. Try to get the garlic as thin as possible. Think Paulie in the jail kitchen scene in Goodfellas.

Chop up your olives into rough chunks.

While I was cooking, I got to hang out with Dana and that was awesome. You know what’s great about technology? Drinking with one of your best friends even though you’re 1000 miles apart.

Drizzle olive oil into a pan over medium-high heat. Throw in the garlic and onions and cook until brown.

Add the tomatoes and break down the tomato chunks with the back of your spoon. Let this gloriously aromatic mixture simmer on your stove for fifteen minutes. Your kitchen should smell incredible at this point.

While that’s cooking, start boiling water for your pasta. I used angel hair but you can use whatever you want – spaghetti, fettucine, linguini. I once heard that pasta water should taste like the ocean so salt it liberally.

While the pasta cooks, add the olives, crushed chili pepper and capers to your sauce. Simmer for ten minutes.

Ladle the sauce over your spaghetti, add parmesan to taste and dinner is ready!

Final verdict:

Delicious. The sharp briny taste of the olives and capers really plays well with the bite of crushed chili and garlic.

Dishes like this make me wonder why anyone would ever buy spaghetti sauce out of a jar. Twenty minutes, a couple of ingredients from your pantry and you’ve got an amazing, quick dinner that you’d be proud to serve guests.

Also, I think I have a new theory in regards to the dish’s etymology. When you eat it, you make the same noises one would make if they were patronizing a bordello.

Oh God.
That’s not just me, is it?

Now, if you’ll excuse me — I have a date with the Corleones and a very large bowl of spaghetti alla puttanesca.

I hope you make it and if you do, please let me know what you think.

Adventures In Culinary Assembly Or, Spicy Vegetable Stew and Chipotle-Cheddar Cornbread

I’m not feeling well. I’m all stuffy and sniffly and cranky.

When I’m like this, I usually want two things:

A) Lots of quality time cuddling while watching familiar television and movies.
B) Comfort food.

To some, comfort food is mashed potatoes and mac-and-cheese – tasty but bland relics from their childhood.

However, I grew up with a bad-ass Indian mom who exposed my palate to spices at a very early age.

When I’m sick, I want vegetables, spice and heat. So I decided to make a spicy vegetable stew with a little chipotle-cheddar cornbread on the side.

Providing the soundtrack for today’s adventure – Noah and the Whale. Less shimmy, more lo-fi sonic hug.

Let’s get assembling, shall we?

Spicy Vegetable Stew

You will need:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 15oz can seasoned kidney beans (but regular kidney beans will work fine as well)
1 15oz can diced tomatoes (with jalapeno if you like a little kick)
1 15oz can corn
1 cup matchstick carrots
1 small zucchini
1 small yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
1 small green bell pepper
1/2 teaspoon powdered cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
Salt to taste

Peel and chop up your garlic and zucchini into rough chunks. We’re making a rustic dish here and this had nothing to do with the fact that my knife skills are on par with the average drunken toddler’s.

Lop the top off your pepper, rip out its heart just like that asshole did you in seventh grade (you know who I’m talking about) and chop it into rough chunks.

Chop up your onions.

Try to avoid looking like this. Thanks for the nose, Paps!

You know what sucks, dudes? Chopping onions when you have a cold.

Heat up two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a big-ass pot. When heated, add your onions and garlic. Stir for about four minutes until they go a little translucent. Add powdered cumin and chili powder.

Add your veggies in batches – zucchini, tomatoes, beans, carrots, corn and bell pepper.

Doesn’t that look pretty?

Add a cup and a half of water, cover and simmer on the stove on medium heat for 30 minutes.

Now, you can take this half hour to go watch an episode of Parks and Rec on Netflix or you can whip up a tasty side for your stew – Chipotle-Cheddar Cornbread. This sounds way more complicated than it is. Trust me.

You will need:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 cup half-and-half
2 eggs
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

and some serious glugs of this:

Yucateca is the greatest chipotle-based hot sauce EVER. And if you don’t agree with me, your parents probably dropped you on your head when you were a child. You should ask them about that.

If you wanna get all fancy and pick up some canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce – knock yourself out, Ace. But this girl is feeling a little too far south of healthy for all that nonsense today.

Mix all your dry ingredients together in a large bowl – flour, cornmeal, salt and baking powder.

Mix all your wet ingredients together in a small bowl. Go straight up Naomi Campbell on that egg.

Dump the wet mixture into the dry, add oil, cheese and chipotle sauce. Go to town on that sucker. Seriously, liberal shakes, dudes.

Grease a baking dish, dump in the batter and bake for 30 minutes at 400ºF. While this is baking, take the lid off your stew and let simmer on the stove. If you’re still worried about the soupy consistency, throw in 1/2 cup of corn meal to thicken it up.

Thirty minutes later, pull your cornbread out of the oven. It should look like this and smell amazing:

Also, the stew’s ready!

Final verdict – delicious. It’s hearty without being heavy and no one flavor overpowers the rest and there’s this really welcoming heat which doesn’t set your mouth ablaze. As for the cornbread? It’s good by itself but even better when crumbled up into the stew. Serve with a little Woodchuck cider and you’ve got a perfect fall meal.

I hope you make it and if you do, please let me know what you think.

Adventures in Culinary Assembly Or, Gazpacho/30 Before 30: #2 – Make Gazpacho From Scratch

My second 30 Before 30 Goal was to learn how to make gazpacho.

I’m a big fan and it’s actually way tougher to get right than you’d imagine. There’s a lot more to it than dumping a bunch of green peppers and cucumbers into a chilled bowl of V8.

I figured what better time to learn than on the eve of the 2012 Spain-Italy Euro Cup final. In making this dish (as well as the sangria blanco earlier), I’m hoping to send a little good mojo to the Spanish national team.

Dear God, I hope they destroy Italy. Like, thoroughly embarrass them all over the pitch. I’m talking a five-nil victory that sends the Eye-Ties home in tatters and shame.
Oh, what?
They sent my boys home on penalties – penalties! – and every last one of them acts as if they’re playing for an Oscar as opposed to a cup.

So to Espana, I have but one thing to say – Olé, Olé, Olé!

As usual, the most important part of any meal is the music and today’s adventure featured The Gipsy Kings providing the soundtrack.

Let’s get started!

You will need:

– 2lbs of tomatoes
– Half a loaf of bread (sidebar: the recipe technically called for day-old bread. Yeah…that’s not a thing in my world. You know what I call day-old bread? Gone. Digested. Dudes, I’m the girl who once split half a loaf of French bread with Biffle while waiting 20 minutes for a pizza. As my boy says, fat kid swag)
– 1 medium cucumber
– 1 small jalapeno
– 1 small ear of corn
– 3 cloves of garlic
– 1 shallot
– Olive oil to taste
– Balsamic vinegar to taste
– Salt and pepper to taste

Can I take a second to talk about tomatoes? You know how some people find peace in looking at a fishtank or staring into a fireplace? Well, I swear I find it in chopping tomatoes in the sunlight. A warm day, a little Spanish guitar, sunshine and the zen of  chopping tomatoes in a quiet kitchen.

Alright, I’m gonna stop being a crazy person now, but seriously – just look how beautiful these are:

Start by slicing up your bread. Once you’ve sliced approximately half the loaf, tear it into small pieces and put in a bowl.

Quarter your tomatoes and dump them into the same bowl. Add salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Set aside for 20 minutes to soak.

While that’s soaking, roughly chop your cucumber, garlic, shallots and jalapeno. Set aside.

I wanted to garnish my gazpacho with roasted corn and avocado, but unfortunately – the latter was a little unripe.

Shuck an ear of corn and remove all extraneous matter. Then, set the heat to medium and slap that sucker right on your stove. Keep an eye on it and turn every couple of minutes. The whole process shouldn’t take more than ten minutes and you’ll know when it’s done because it’ll be charred and delicious.

While that’s cooking, you can start blending your soup.

Since I have a Not Magic Bullet, I had to make mine in small batches and that whole emulsifying with olive oil bit? Just not happening.

If you have grown-up appliances, please use them.

I blended the now well-soaked tomato-bread mixture together and added the vegetables afterwords coupled with a couple of healthy glugs of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Careful on the latter, it changes the color of the dish in a pretty drastic way if you add too much. Personally, I like the pretty coral hue so I tamped down on the vinegar in a serious way.

Refrigerate immediately. I’ve heard that gazpacho needs up to 12 hours of chilling to firm up the flavors. I’m not certain of the veracity of this, but I do think that soups and stews usually taste better on the second day. So, do with this information what you wish.

Yo, remember that corn you were grilling on the stove? You should check that again. It’s probably done.

Now, if you weren’t blessed with asbestos hands like me, let it cool before you touch it. However, if you possess this utterly useless skill, start removing kernels.

I did this while Skyping with my parents. Paps spent ten minutes criticizing my kernel-removal technique:

Paps: Jemmy! You’re going the wrong way!
Me: There is no wrong way! It’s an ear of corn!
Paps: Why are you being so stubborn?
Me: I learned it from you!
Mom (thinking): Which God did I anger to end up with these two jugheads in my life…?

Then, Mom showed me up my stripping an ear of roasted corn in less than half the time it took me to do mine.

Story of my life – Mom is better than everyone, especially me.

Since I am all about instant gratification, there was no damn way I was waiting until tomorrow to eat this, so I toasted a few slices of bread with olive oil and salt and went to town.

I am proud of this dish. Let’s face it, most of these culinary adventures are just me faffing around the kitchen trying to stave off boredom until the next episode of Justified but I really feel like I made a quality summer meal today. I would gladly serve this to someone I loved.

Final verdict – It tastes like summer. The cucumbers provide a clean brightness, the tomatoes and shallots are sweet and compliment the hit of garlic really well, the jalapeno hits you last – the barest whisper of heat and the corn? Every now and then, you’ll get a really charred piece and the smoky taste just sets the whole thing off.

I usually eat dinner in front of the television, but today – I sat up straight at the dinner table. I ate a really good meal. I looked out of the window at a blue sky while listening to Paco de Lucia and felt at peace with the world.

I hope you make it and if you do, please let me know what you think.

Today was a good day and tomorrow will be an even better one because Italy’s going down hard.

VIVA ESPANA!

 

Edit: 7/2/12

So, Spain annihilated Italy 4-0 and today, I had leftover gazpacho for dinner. With avocado and El Yucateco Chipotle Hot Sauce. And it was glorious.

Adventures in Culinary Assembly Or, Sangria Blanco

I had this brilliant idea for making sangria in a parking lot.

Hear me out — you grab a couple of airline bottles of vodka and triple sec, one of those 500ml bottles of white wine and head to your local Wawa/7-11.

Grab a couple of those pre-packaged containers of fruit and fill a 32oz cup a quarter of the way with fountain Sprite. Add the fruit, the booze and stir.

Congratulations! You just made a delicious, exotic and summery beverage right there in the parking lot of the Wawa!

Unfortunately, certain people thought this was a terrible idea. They laughed at me and said I was essentially the walking embodiment of boughetto.

Thanks, jerkfaces! See if you get invites to my All White Sangria Wawa Parking Lot Party.

What? That could be a thing.

This sangria was not made in a parking lot. It was made in my kitchen while listening to Prince…which is a pretty great way to make anything. Especially babies.

Let’s get started!

You will need:

– Green grapes
– Raspberries
– Peaches
– Cheap white wine
– 1/4 cup of Triple Sec
– 1/4 cup of sugar
– Vodka
– Club Soda

Usually the lack of real measurements skitzes me out but in this case, it’s all to taste. Don’t like peaches? Use honeydew melon. Don’t like raspberries? Add blackberries to that sucker.

First things first – add 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of triple sec to your pitcher. Set aside for about five minutes and then, give it a quick stir.

Chop up your peaches and grapes and use the pterodactyl claw you call your hand to add the fruit to the pitcher. Seriously, why does my hand look like that?

Add some raspberries – for flavor, for color and for their affiliation to Prince.

At this point, you’re starting to realize, “Wow. That is a shitload of fruit, right? Like a lot.”

No big. I mean, we still need to add the wine, right?

Then, you realize that you don’t have enough wine. I KNOW.

But that’s OK. We don’t panic. We improvise with our good friend, Comrade Vodka.

A couple of solid glugs from our favorite Ruski and we are golden. See? Beautiful.

Stick it in the fridge for a couple of hours to let the fruit macerate in the alcohol.

(Totally unrelated but I highly recommend the Leinenkugel Sunset Wheat if you like Belgian wheat ales)

Blog for a bit, watch Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II for the eleventh time, try to convince your friend to steal a Boston Terrier for you. You know, the usual.

Take your boozy fruit mixture out of the fridge and top off with club soda.

Final Verdict – remember in college when you other people who aren’t you at all used to upend bottles into a bowl at random, add a little Hawaiian Fruit Punch and hell, some Tylenol PM for fun and call it Passionflower Power Punch and get everyone schwacked on it?

This is like that…but better. It’s potent, sweet and refreshing. The kind of drink that’ll have you fishing for fruit chunks in your glass in the most undignified manner.

But if you’re sitting in the sun with the people you love listening to good music and screaming with laughter – that whole dignity thing is overrated anyway.

I hope you make it and if you do, please let me know what you think.

Now, if you’ll excuse me – I have some fruit chunks to fish out of a glass.

Adventures In Culinary Assembly Or, Baked Three-Cheese Jalapeno Poppers

As I’m making these, Paps calls and asks for the recipe.

This means he wants to go out, buy a bunch of stuff, chop a pepper or two and then, pester Mom with about six billion inane questions until she gets annoyed and decides just to do it herself.

The man has this down to an art form and if I didn’t have to suffer as a result of it, I would actually be quite impressed.

Also, I’m guilty of doing the exact same thing – “Mom! How do I…?” “Where’s the….?” “How do I know when…?”

Swear to God, that woman’s patience knows no bounds. If I have kids like me, I’m going to eat my own fist.

So, here is the recipe you requested, Paps. Look dude — you’ve got step-by-step directions with pictures. Leave Mom alone and let her enjoy her Sunday.

Since I learned nothing from yesterday’s shimmying debacle, I decided to crank the Vicky Cristina Barcelona soundtrack for today’s adventure. Sunshine, Spanish guitar and cooking are a pretty perfect Sunday in my world.

Let’s get started!

You will need:

2 lbs of jalapeno peppers
1 15oz container of cream cheese. I got the Whipped kind because it was on sale and it’s easier to mix.
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1 1/4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Panko breadcrumbs (not pictured)

Grab a pepper and lop off the end with the stem.

Hey! I found a pepper the size of a Volvo!

Cut the pepper in half lengthwise and remove all the membrane and seeds. You can do this using a knife or just use your thumbs. Yay evolution!

Do this for ad infinitum. Do not wipe your hands on your bare flesh. Trust me on this one. Once you’ve cut them up, set them aside.

It’s time to make the filling. Dump your cream cheese in a bowl and add 1/4 of cumin and a 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne. Why are we adding cayenne to jalapenos? Because we’re not wussies. Go big or go home.

Mix vigorously (preferably while dancing in your kitchen) and then, add the cheeses.

Stir again until all ingredients are blended. Now, it’s time to stuff. You could be dainty and use a spoon but dudes — cooking is about getting your hands dirty. Grab a blob of the cheese mixture and start jamming it into the pepper casings.

Once stuffed, sprinkle with breadcrumbs. You don’t have to use Panko — you can use regular breadcrumbs, cornmeal, smashed tortilla chips. Whatever makes you happy.

Bake at 350ºF for 30 minutes, broiling for the last two.

Remove from oven and let sit.

Final verdict – Holy dear God, they’re spicy! My lips are tingling, my nose is running and I’m a little short of breath. So, basically? They’re delicious! They’re also creamy, crunchy, salty and the perfect accompaniment to a very cold beer or icy margarita.

I hope you make them and if you do, let me know what you think!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to chug a gallon of ice water.