sweet potato fries,  jalapeno chutney, taco truck sauceI love a good sweet potato fry, just like the next guy. And generally, I think they’re just fine when cut thin and baked in the oven. But some years back, upon my and my wife’s first trip to Nashville, a good friend and resident of Music City took us to a burger joint called Gabby’s. The burger was delicious, but my attention was drawn to something else. Nestled there beside my burger was a great handful of sweet potato fries, each as thick as a working man’s thumb. They were a deep burnt orange, outlined in a thin layer of deep brown. The interior was soft and sweet like custard and was armored with a thick layer of airy-crisp crust. Perhaps most magical was that the hot oil had drawn out some of the internal sugars from the potato so that it was flecked with a dark and smoky caramel. It wouldn’t be a bit strange to eat these fried jewels on their own, but when it comes to cooking, I’m never one for doing things half-way–it’s all or nothing. Which is why I decided to pair these sweet potato fries with one of my very favorite condiments of all time.taco truck sauceTaco Truck sauce, Jalapeno, spicy, hotBecause I don’t know the name of it, I’ll just have to describe it. If you’ve been to any respectable taco truck, you’ve seen it. There at the counter, enrobed in a plastic squeeze bottle, it’s that ultra-spicy, creamy, green sauce that you can’t get enough of. And if you thought it was good on tacos, you’ll be pleased to know that it is also a friendly companion to a basket of sweet potato fries–or most anything else. So let’s get to it.sweet potato fries

Sweet Potato Fries with Taco Truck Sauce (Serves 2 or 3)

Ingredients:

2 medium-sized sweet potatoes

2 liters canola oil, for frying

5 jalapenos

3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped

1/2 yellow onion

1/3 cup canola oil

2 tbsp white vinegar

salt, to taste

Preparation:

To get started, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Meanwhile, slice the potatoes length-wise, about 1/2 inch thick. Place them into the boiling water and let them cook for 6 minutes (they should be tender to the tooth, but not mushy). As the potatoes cook, place the jalapenos and 1/2 a yellow onion into a small pot and cover with water. Place them on medium high heat and let them cook for 10-15 minutes. The jalapenos should just soften.

When the potatoes are par-cooked, drain them in a colander, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and place them in the freezer to cool. Pour the oil into a large pot and place it on high heat. As the oil heats, work on the Taco Truck sauce. When the jalapenos have softened, drain them, remove the tops and throw them into a cup to be blended. Add the onion, garlic, oil, and vinegar. Using an immersion blender, blend these ingredients together until smooth. Add salt to taste. This makes quite a lot and, lucky for you, this sauce can be used on anything–put it on chicken, grilled steak, tacos(of course), shrimp, serve it with chips, vegetables, whatever. Place the sauce in the fridge to cool.

At this point, the oil should be nice and hot. Fry the potatoes in batches, making sure not to remove them from the hot oil until they are deeply bronzed and crisp–you want them almost slightly burned. Once cooked, place them onto a few sheets of napkins, season them generously with salt and pepper, get the Taco Truck sauce out of the fridge and get to dipping. Serving these with an ice-cold beer would not be out of order.sweet potato fries

 

baba ganoush, eggplantNow that it is Spring, we have an obligation to leave our homes, go out of doors, start fires, and roam through creek beds. In my neck of the woods, the weather has not completely taken the hint:  Just today I woke to a 31 degree morning and scraped a thin layer of ice from my windshield. But even though the weather is not currently suited for outdoor jaunts, I will act as if every day is 72 degrees and sunny. I will wear shorts. I will plant seed in the ground. I will roll the windows down. And you should too.

This week, I had the great pleasure to take a trip back to the Kentucky River, to see my mother and my father, my brother and my sisters. One evening, my brother and I built a fire on the crest of a hill overlooking the stony creek below. Over hot coals, we cooked flatbread, grilled chicken with spicy red chili oil and lemon, and made baba ganoush. If you’re not familiar with baba ganoush, have I got a treat for you. Put simply, baba ganoush is roasted and mashed eggplant. But such a description does not do it justice in the least. Baba ganoush is a dish whose preparation is just as enticing as the flavors of the finished product. The process is primal, intense, and ruggedly beautiful.

baba ganoush, coals, eggplantThe eggplant is rubbed with oil and then thrown directly onto hot coals. The skin burns, turning black and grey and blue. As it cooks, the eggplant softens, and the smoke permeates deeply into the flesh. The flavor rivals the smoky earthiness of barbeque, and if I were a vegetarian, this would be my go-to grill-out food. Consider this recipe your excuse to get outside! Go! Post-haste!

baba ganoush, eggplant, mediterranean

Baba Ganoush, or, How to Play with Fire (makes a bunch)

Ingredients:

2 medium eggplants

3 tbsp tahini

1 tbsp good olive oil

1/2 tsp black pepper

juice of half a lemon

3/4 tsp salt

1 head of roasted garlic, smashed

za’atar, optional

 

Preparation:

Begin by starting a fire. You could use charcoal, as well. I do not recommend using anything other than natural hardwood charcoal, as it is not made with harmful chemicals. It’s also important that you do not flood the charcoal with lighter fluid. You will, after all, be cooking the eggplant directly on the coals. When the flame has died down and the coals are red and roaring hot, place the two oiled eggplants into the coals. Let them cook on each side for about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, slice off the top of an entire head of garlic, drizzle it with oil, place it in foil and throw it into the coals.

Once the skin of the eggplant has collapsed and the flesh is completely tender and yielding, carefully remove the eggplant from the coals and place it in foil to steam for 5 minutes. Remove the garlic from the coals. After 5 minutes, peel off the burned outer skin of the eggplant and chop off the tops. On a cutting board, chop the eggplant until it becomes smooth and nearly homogenous. Lots of folks like to give their baba ganoush a spin in the food processor, but I appreciate a more natural consistency.

When the garlic is just cool enough to handle, squeeze out the softened and roasty flesh. To a large bowl, add the mashed eggplant, garlic, tahini, olive oil, lemon, salt, and black pepper. Mix it together with a spoon. If you have it, sprinkle a little za’atar over the top. At this point, it’s ready to eat. You can serve it with vegetables or charred flatbread and olives. If you have time and patience, you could let the baba ganoush cool in the fridge overnight. You might be wondering, why? Why not enjoy this delicacy forthwith? Here’s why: overnight, the smokiness continues to permeate the dip, so that by morning, it becomes almost obscenely smoky. Of course, it’s up to you.

baba ganoush, eggplant, coalAs it is Spring, we will end today’s post with a bit of seasonally-appropriate prose poetry written by yours truly. Enjoy!

A warm wind rolls gently through the window, and I raise my hands as if to rejoice. Standing before the opening, as the light shines through, my feet are still covered in thick winter camp socks. In fact, my entire outfit, from the old crocheted wool hat, to the heavy quilt draped awkwardly across my shoulder suggests that I believe this warm respite is something winter might soon take away. I am shirtless, warm-bellied and well-slept. Through the salt-stained glass, beyond the edge of the porch and across the road, I can see the beginning of spring’s verdant rapture; tender shoots driving up toward heaven from the dirt and ice. In my mind’s eye, this tiny fleck of green instantly grows six months into the future, and my front yard is now enveloped in an emerald blanket, and there is a grill that emits a spicy perfume of cedar and animal fat, and over us all, my closest friends and my love, there lays the gentle touch of the third beer. The music from an old stereo dictates the mood, punctuates the experience, like an exclamation point, an unspoken, internal shout for joy. And as I consider the moment, distilling it down into a strong and sweet emotion, I get a feeling of childlike excitement so intense that it almost takes hold of my body and wills me to dance. In the vision I’m dancing like Lazarus, raised from the dead.

 

seared salmonIn my younger days, the height of culinary mastery was a piece of seared salmon. I’ve mentioned it before, but in our little tiny village, seafood was (and still is) hard to come by. And so, for that, it was exotic, even sexy. On one occasion, I made a trip to a well-stocked grocery out of town, purchased all the ingredients to make the salmon, and set out to delight and wow my family, thereby proving my superiority as an epicure. I had everything before me: a few center-cut fillets of atlantic salmon, fresh dill, pickles, lemon, I even bought creme fraiche (which made me feel pretty special).

After much ado, I plated each portion of salmon and we sat down to eat.The result was, in my eyes, not all that great. To my younger sisters who, at the time, subsisted on a diet made up of Cheez-Its and apple juice, the bitter and briny bite of the pickles, the salmon which tasted of the ocean, the herbaceous twang of fresh dill, did not sit well with them.

If I’m being honest, the salmon was undercooked. In my efforts to keep it moist, I did not cook it long enough. The innards were mushy and wet. The sauce, which was intended to be creamy and rich, had the consistency of curdled milk, and it slipped from one side of the plate to the other. We sat there at the table, in silence. I did not let on to the fact that the meal was no hit. Meanwhile, two sets of eyes set sights on the kitchen cabinet, where behind the door lay two unopened boxes of Cheez-its. salmonSince then, a lot has changed. I’ve cooked this meal many times. I’ve learned how to mess it up. But I’ve also learned how to make it well. This preparation was my wife’s favorite in our college days. In making this dish, I’ve learned how to properly sear, how to make an aioli, how to properly season protein, the list goes on. If you have never tried your hand at salmon, now is the time. Fortunately, you won’t have to make the same mistakes I have. I’m here to guide you through it. Let’s do this:Tartar Sauce ingredientsLet me be honest and tell you that, this morning when I made this, we ate it with a big ol’ buttery biscuit on the side, and I wasn’t mad about that. You could definitely explore the joys of the ultra-brunchy Salmon Biscuit.seared salmon with a biscuitPan-Seared Salmon with Dill-Cornichon Tartar (serves 2)

Ingredients:

2 6 oz portions of salmon (center-cut)

1/4 cup canola oil

1 egg yolk

1 tsp dijon mustard

1 tbsp shallot, minced

1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped

3 tbsp cornichons, finely chopped

1 tbsp lemon juice

2 dashes Tabasco

 

Preparation

Start by placing the yolk of one egg into a bowl. You’re going to make an aioli. Here’s the idea. Add the oil slowly. A few drops at a time. And don’t worry about vigorously whisking. Instead, with each new addition of oil, gently incorporate it into the egg yolk. Over time, you will notice that the mixture thickens to the point that it seems to coagulate on the whisk itself. This is a good sign. Let the aioli relax for a moment while you prepare the shallot, dill, and cornichons. When you’re ready, add the dijon, lemon juice, and the tabasco to the aioli and stir to combine. Now add the shallot, cornichons, and the dill. Place the mixture in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

Heat a large pan on medium-high with a teaspoon of canola oil. Season both sides of the salmon with a generous amount of peppery and coarse salt. When the oil in the pan is nearly smoking, place the salmon fillets skin-side down in the pan. Apply gentle pressure to the salmon so that all parts of the skin receive even heat. Let the salmon cook for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, turn the salmon and let it cook 5 more minutes. If the sides of the salmon are still bright pink in color, they are still not quite cooked. In this case, roll them over on their sides and let them cook one minute longer. Once cooked, place the salmon on a plate, give it a good squeeze of lemon, and spoon the dill-cornichon tartar over the center of the fillet.

Rejoice.

 

 

 

 

fennel and grapefruit salad

Sometimes, I consider my own health. Sometimes, I even write about it. When I say this, I don’t mean that I stand in front of the mirror to point out my superficial flaws: a sparsely and incongruously hairy chest, a pocket of fat on my lower stomach that has resided there since birth (despite countless exercise regimens), big ol’ monkey ears, or two tiny matchstick legs with the knobbiest of knees. When I consider my own health, I think about the things I eat and drink. I think about how I treat my body. More recently, I’ve been thinking about how strange it is that, so often, the things that give us the most pleasure are often the most damaging to our bodies and our minds: a hamburger, a piece of chocolate cake, too much wine, a cigarette. With these kinds of pleasure, there is payment: heart disease, diabetes, alcoholism, lung cancer.

That which is “good” for us does not typically provide the same satisfaction. But why is it that, every once in a while, we find ourselves almost drunk with pleasure, soul weeping and rejoicing, over a bowl of the most perfect lettuce? Is this pleasure somehow deeper, somehow more true? I come to you with questions only. Today, I found myself almost tearing up while eating a salad. I understand that, to you, this might seem like very strange behavior. You might assume that such a reaction indicates emotional instability(as if our emotions are considered more stable when they are hidden from our faces). But we laugh and cry when moved by the strings of the violin, or the perfectly ordered brushstrokes on the canvas, the images of a film, the words and the story of a great novel. Are these things, created by men, somehow more deserving of our deepest emotion? We know the author by her work. And thus, we taste, touch, see, smell, breathe her work through the lines of the broken canyon, the great burning globe of sun, the downy hills of snow white snow, the sour apples in spring, the very lettuce in our fridge or on our plate.

Perhaps, we should reconsider our pleasure.fennelfennel bulb

The salad I present to you today is pretty special. Of course, it was not my idea to pair fennel with grapefruit. But I’ve done my best to elevate this from being something more than just pretty. It starts with fennel bulb, shaved impossibly thin, with perfectly balanced segments of pink grapefruit. It is dressed with sherry-shallot vinaigrette, sprigs of fresh mint, roasted cashews, and finished fresh fennel fronds. Normally, I’m not one to worry too much about the exact amounts of ingredients, but this time was different. The amounts I have listed are right on the money. Follow them correctly, and you’ll be happy. I’m not being hyperbolic when I tell you that this is the greatest salad that I have ever eaten, and that the whole sensual experience of it is beyond compare.fennel and grapefruitfennel and grapefruit salad

Fennel and Grapefruit Salad (serves 4 small portions, or 2 large)

Ingredients:

For the Salad

1 fennel bulb, shaved

2 grapefruits, segmented and removed of all pith and skin

1/2 cup roasted cashews

1/4 cup whole fresh mint leaves (do not pack them in the measuring cup)

fennel fronds, for garnish

 

For the Sherry-Shallot Vinaigrette

3 tbsps shallot, chopped finely

3 tbsps sherry vinegar

1/4 cup canola oil

1 tbsp white sugar

1/2 tsp salt

juice of 1/2 lemon

 

Preparation:

When all the ingredients have been chopped and measured, add the shaved fennel to a large mixing bowl. In a separate, smaller bowl, mix together all of the ingredients for the vinaigrette and stir to combine. Once mixed, add 3/4 of the vinaigrette to the bowl of shaved fennel and gently mix until the fennel is well-coated. For me, this was enough. But if you have a large fennel bulb, you may need to add more. To the large bowl, add the grapefruit segments, mint, and roasted cashews. After plating the salad, add a few sprigs of mint and fresh fennel fronds. This dish is to be eaten alone and in silence in front of a large window overlooking a row of matured maple and oak trees.

Enjoy.

 

 

 

Cherry-Minneola Jam

As of today, the Snowpocalypse of 2015 has ended. At least from my window. Trees are no longer glazed with ice, nor cars blanketed with snow, and I can see grass again. All the ice and snow and sub-zero temperatures brought about 5 days of school cancellations for Davidson County. That’s right, I haven’t been to school in nine days (if you count the weekend). So what does one do when forced to stay home, when robbed of the opportunity to educate and to care for the youth of America? Well, I don’t know what one does, but I know what I do. I make a shit-ton of food.

It started innocently enough: a simple bowl of guacomole, studded with sliced jalapeno and tiny ribbons of chopped cilantro. But one dip alone would not do. I moved onto homemade hummus, made with lots of fresh lemon, tahini, and a dash of soy sauce–I know, it sounds weird, but it’s a hummus game-changer. Things got a little weirder when I decided that I would brave the treacherous roads to buy pork bones, konbu, and dried shiitake mushrooms for some homemade ramen. The broth, complex, full-bodied and rich, was the result of nearly 8 hours of simmering on the stove. While the soup did its thing, I made fresh pasta of all shapes and sizes. Longer sheets for bolognese lasagne, and the tiniest of threads for the ramen.

The next day, I woke up and spent the day making croissants, pain au chocolat, and cinnamon rolls. If you know my wife, it should come as no surprise to you that, in the midst of my 5-day culinary frenzy, she was on a “juice fast.” I’ve added quotations to that because, well, she did eat some of the hummus. And she had a few croissants. And a cinnamon roll. As I unabashedly slurped ramen in my underwear while watching basketball, she would offer me ‘a juice.’ Most times, I declined, saying that the only juice for me was squeezed fresh from the Bourbon tree and then given time to ferment, so that its nutritional properties were intensified. I entrusted Col. E.H. Taylor, as his famed bourbon juice is highly regarded in all the lands.cherry minneola jamSaturday, even with all of the bourbon and the fresh pasta and the ramen and the croissants and the hummus and the cinnamon rolls and everything, I was ready to be done with all this frozen nonsense. To me, ice was no longer exciting or beautiful–it was dangerous and irresponsible. My thoughts returned to summer, to the warmth of the sun on my back, to a downy bed of green grass and the smell of bailed hay, when a cold drink on a hot day is more valuable than silver or gold, when stalks and branches collapse under the weight of their own sweet fruit, when dusty wicker baskets are filled with bright peppers, and fragrant herbs, and tomatoes so plump with flavor they might pop, when all of the world is a great big smile and every day feels like a celebration.

But the cold truth is that it’s February. And I must learn to love these days. I must learn to see that the warmth and life of Spring and Summer would not be possible without the cold and the dead of Winter. And that life exists only in relation to death. And so, on the edge of this existential rumination, I would find a way to honor this time of sleep and quiet and cold.

I would make cherry jam. I mean, think about it: these cherries, once plump with sweetness and juice and life have been immortalized when kissed by cold. They remain plump and sweet and filled with life. That’s right, this is the way that I tell you that I used frozen berries to make homemade jam. And the result was just what I needed to keep me here in the present cold while still appreciating what will soon come: the warmth of spring and the heat of summer.Cherry Jam

Cherry-Minneola Jam–makes a little more than a jar of jam

Ingredients:

12 oz cherries, fresh or frozen

zest and juice of 1 lemon

zest and juice of 1 minneola tangerine

3/4 cups sugar

To start, chop up the cherries. Zest the minneola and slice the fruit into small pieces. Zest the lemon and set the juice aside. In a small saucepan, cook down the cherries, the tangerine, the lemon juice and the zest. Once the cherries have softened (about 15 minutes), add the sugar and raise the temperature to medium-high heat. At this point, stir the mixture continuously. It’s important that the sugar does not burn. Meanwhile, place a large spoon in the freezer. After the cherry mixture has been cooking for 10 or so minutes, place a drop of the jam on the frozen spoon. Give it a second in the freezer. With your finger, check to see that the jam on the spoon has thickened. If it has not thickened, continue to cook the cherry mixture and try again. Once it passes the frozen spoon test, pour the jam into a mason jar and pop it in the fridge. The jam will continue to gel as it cools, and after several hours, it will come together completely.cherry jam

As for how to serve it, well that’s up to you. I had a paper bag filled with flaky croissants, so it was a no-brainer. It would also be the perfect thing to serve alongside a wheel of goat cheese or brie.Cherry Jam

 

pea soup, soup, green pea soup, spring pea soup

I wish I had a story for this one. But there’s nothing to be nostalgic about here, because this dish is new to my kitchen. Following the excesses of Christmas past, my wife mentioned a recipe for a green pea soup. I must be honest by telling you that I have never had pea soup. And also, that in the past, the mere mention of it got me thinking about the Exorcist, where pea soup was used as a stand-in for, well, you know (and if you don’t know, good for you!). I don’t imagine this is making you hungry–which is sort of my job, I guess. My hope, though, is that this post can change any ill will you have toward green pea soup. So here goes:IMG_8159

This soup is all about freshness. The peas are blended once they turn bright green. Fresh mint and tart lemon add lightness, while smoky bacon and chopped leeks give the soup an incredible savor. The soup is finished with a dollop of mascarpone cheese, which adds richness and contrast to the verdant pea and mint. And even better, unlike other soups which benefit from hours and hours on the stove, this soup is ready once the leeks are cooked and the peas have warmed. This would also be the perfect thing to serve alongside roasted pork chops or a slab of pork belly.IMG_8168

Green Pea-Leek Soup with Mint (serves 4)

Ingredients

1/4 lb smoky bacon, chopped fine

2 leeks, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

4 tbsps fresh mint, chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

2 cups good chicken stock

1 bag frozen peas

 

In a large pot on medium heat, add the chopped bacon and let the fat render out. Once rendered, remove the pieces of bacon. Add the leeks and garlic to the pot and let them cook until they have softened. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Once boiling, add the peas, mint, and lemon. When the peas have warmed, use an immersion blender to bring the mixture to a smooth consistency. Add a generous amount of black pepper and season with salt to taste. Serve the soup with a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a sprig of mint. You could also top the soup with homemade bread crumbs of buttery croutons and serve it with a couple strips of thick-cut bacon.

 

Enjoy.

 

chapati, naan, pork naan, meat naan, kheema chapati, pork and raisin

When I was seventeen, the world began to change. One friday night in the fall, my friend Sam and I drove to Lexington, Kentucky.  As night fell, we rolled along down the highway in his toyota corolla. Looking back, I can see us driving from above, in a long wide shot. Two headlights illuminate the road before us, while an eternity of darkness remains undisturbed. Talking Heads is playing on the car stereo. Dense forest gives way to manicured horse farms and then, finally, street lights return. The city is populated with small businesses and ethnic restaurants. There are people walking on the sidewalks. They wear interesting clothes. Some of them are non-white. In those days, the city seemed large and unknown. I thought its streets and alleyways must go on forever, like some ever-expanding metropolis. Consider my upbringing in a town of no more than 10,000, with no movie theatre and fresh seafood a rarity, and my naïveté begins to make a little more sense.

We were there to visit a friend studying at the University of Kentucky. By the time we arrived, the dinner hour was upon us. We were not so hungry as we were interested. The city was alive and fragrant, it emanated with it’s own perfume, a mix of hot blacktop, refuse, and cooking smells. A keen nose can always find what it’s looking for. Tucked in among a row of dilapidated shops was an indian restaurant. I can no longer remember its name. Its windows were obscured with a wall of garish beaded curtains. Without discussion, we stepped inside and asked for a menu. I knew nothing about indian food. It’s probably similar to chinese, I thought. The sole proprietor looked on, hands behind his back, his bushy eyebrows furrowed. As he took our order, his demeanor seemed almost clinical. This was serious business, it seemed. Not wanting to further illustrate my ignorance, I quickly pointed to two things on the menu. To go, please. The man took the menu and disappeared into the kitchen.

We took a seat in a vinyl booth and waited. The restaurant was empty. A moment later, the man stepped out of the kitchen and resumed his post behind the counter. He stood erect, his eyes gazing stolidly toward us. All the while, a rhythmic and brisk Indian pop song seemed to gyrate from a set of speakers tucked in the corners of the room. I worried that my shoulders might begin to bob up and down involuntarily. Was I already doing it? Before I could worry any longer, a bell sounded. The man disappeared again and returned this time with a brown paper bag. I paid him, took the bag and stepped back outside.

In the near-darkness, we took a seat on the pavement and ripped into the paper bag. The aroma of the contents was intoxicating and exotic, pungent and earthy, bright and acidic. We tore away bits of a blistered flatbread stuffed with lamb and seasoned with toasted cumin and chilies. We dipped it into a technicolor-green chutney of cilantro and mint. In a styrofoam cup was a wickedly hot curry of more lamb, this time slow-stewed and seasoned with tomatoes, ginger, and garlic. Don’t ask me how, but we managed to save some of it and stashed the leftovers in the car.

The rest of the evening is foggy. Underage drinking was in no small part to blame. Our friend’s dorm seemed like a funhouse, where each room held a new cast of eccentric and alien characters. They had nicknames and came from different countries. One of them was german, hulking and huge, and yelled out for mehr Bier! One of them, so drunk from a handle of vodka, crawled gleefully down the hallway toward the prospect of a hot slice of pizza. Others simply watched the show, just as we did. Our night in the big city ended just the way it began. In the car, we split the rest of the leftovers. Hours had passed and though the curry was cold by now, the flavors seemed to warm us all over again.chapati, naan, meat naan, pork naan

Ten years have passed. College came and went. I married. I got a job. I continued to cook. And then one weekend, about a month ago, the memory returned to me. I didn’t dare recreate the dish exactly. How could I? This recipe is more an interpretation of the meal as it exists in my memory and less a replica of what we actually ate that evening.IMG_8107

It begins with a white-wheat crust, allowed to ferment over night. I knew I wanted a moderate amount of whole wheat flour, because I think it imparts a warm, earthy, and comforting flavor to breads. Meanwhile, I made a homemade sausage from ground pork, fennel, orange zest, raisins, black peppercorns, and garlic. The sausage is pressed into the rounds of dough and charred in a screaming-hot pan. It’s served with a chutney made from cilantro, mint, jalapenos, ginger, and lemon. I can’t tell you how incredibly delicious this is. You must make it.

Pork and Raisin Chapati with Mint Chutney

(makes 6-8 large rounds)

For the dough:

300 grams white flour

200 grams wheat flour

1/4 teaspoon dry yeast

2 teaspoons salt

1 2/3 cups room temperature water

In a large bowl with a lid, mix all the ingredients together. Be sure to mix the dough until there are no dry bits of flour left. Cover with a lid and let the dough sit for about 12 to 18 hours. An hour before you are ready to use it, pour the dough onto a heavily floured countertop. With a bench scraper, divide the dough into six equal-sized pieces. Working with one piece at a time, fold over each of the four corners of the dough round as if you were closing a package. Then, flip the dough and pull it toward you with the side of your palm as it anchors itself to the work surface. This will help to create tension in the dough. Do this with the remaining pieces. Flour the tops and let the dough sit, covered with plastic wrap, for one hour.

For the sausage:

1 pound ground pork sausage (85/15)

1/2 cup raisins

2 teaspoons orange zest

1 tablespoon fresh oregano, chopped

3 teaspoons whole fennel seeds, crushed

2 teaspoons whole peppercorns, crushed

4 cloves garlic, crushed

1 3/4 teaspoons salt

In a large bowl, mix all ingredients well. Before you add the sausage to the rounds of dough, it must be cooked slightly. The dough cooks so quickly that the sausage is not allowed enough time to char. In a large pan on medium heat, cook the sausage until no pink remains. As it cooks, use a spoon to break it into small pieces.IMG_8121

For the mint chutney:

1 cup fresh mint, gently packed

1 cup fresh cilantro, gently packed

2 large jalapenos, chopped fine with seeds and ribs removed

1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced

juice of half a lemon

a good pinch of salt(I used black salt, which is pretty spectacular)

Add all ingredients to a food processor and give it a whirl until the chutney is smooth. If necessary, add a few drops of water. Don’t get carried away. You can store this chutney in the fridge for about 3 days.

 

Putting it all together:

Once the chutney is made, you’re ready to make the chapati. Before you begin working with the dough, put a very large non-stick pan on medium-high heat. Start by adding a little flour to one round of dough. Gently stretch the outer edges of the dough. Then, press your fingers into the middle of the dough and begin to stretch it out. This can be done by placing the round of dough over the tops of your hands and letting gravity do most of the work, as you slowly spin the dough. Once the dough is roughly the size of the pan, place it down flat inside it.

Immediately, wet the dough with  a few drops of water. This will help the sausage to adhere. Using your hands gently press the sausage mixture into the dough so that it sticks. Once the bottom side of the dough begins to char and blister, turn it over. Let it cook until the sausage becomes slightly crispy and the crust is pleasantly bronzed.

I won’t tell you exactly how to eat it, but you might spoon some of the chutney over it. Or, you could slice the chapati into smaller pieces and dip it into the chutney.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Banh Mi

This post is not so much a strict recipe. It’s more of a call-to-action. If you’re a person who likes to eat sandwiches(in other words, if you’re a person), you should be eating bánh mì. Now, if this is new to you, I’m sure you have lots of questions, the first of which might be something like, “How the hell has something so delicious and wonderful been absent from my life?” Don’t despair. You’re here now. You are reading this very post, which means that the Universe has decided that the time is ripe for you to indulge in your very own bánh mì.

The word bánh mì is Vietnamese for “bread.” The name, however, has become synonymous with pretty much any sandwich. As for what goes in it, the rules are pretty loose. I’ve had bánh mì piled high with pork liver pâté and smeared with homemade mayonnaise, or filled with spicy meatballs, or layered with crispy tofu and sweet hoisin sauce and covered with fresh cilantro. The common thread between nearly all bánh mì is thus: they’re served on airy, toasted rice flour baguettes with pickled vegetables and hot chilis.  Like so many of the world’s most delicious foods, they represent a sharp contrast of flavors and textures: rich and creamy mayonnaise, crispy baguette, sweet pickled carrot, spicy peppers, savory meats, and bright herbs. What’s not to love.

The bánh mì you see above is a vegetarian incarnation. It’s filled with a sort-of asian omelette, seasoned with dark soy, toasted sesame oil and rice wine vinegar. The soft inner walls of the baguette are covered with a deeply rich mushroom-thyme pâté and super-rich mayonnaise. The sandwich is topped with pickled carrots, fresh cucumber, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeno. IMG_8017

Egg Bánh Mì

Ingredients:

baguette or hoagie roll, toasted

few sprigs fresh cilantro

red onion, sliced thin

jalapeno, cut in long strips

cucumber, cut in long spears

For the pickled carrots:

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

1 carrot

1 teaspoon sugar

pinch of salt

To make the pickles, use a vegetable peeler to create long, thin shavings of carrot. In a deep bowl, mix the rice wine vinegar, water, sugar and salt together and add the carrot. Place the pickles in the fridge to chill.

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For the homemade mayonnaise:

1 egg yolk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1 tablespoon dijon mustard

pinch of salt

In a large bowl, add the egg yolk. With a whisk ready, add a couple drops of vegetable oil, stirring gently but constantly. This process takes patience, but once you’ve learned how to do it right, you’ll thank yourself. Continue to add the oil, drop by drop, while whisking slowly. You should notice, after a while, that the mixture will begin to thicken. When thick, add the dijon and the pinch of salt and stir to combine. Set aside.

Mushroom Thyme Paté

For the mushroom-thyme pâté:

3 cups crimini mushrooms, finely chopped

2 teaspoons fresh thyme, finely chopped

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 yellow onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon flour

1/2 cup milk

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

salt, to taste

In a large pan, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the mushrooms, onion, garlic, and thyme. Let this mixture cook for about 10 minutes, or until the mixture is soft and homogenous. Add the pepper. In a separate small bowl, mix the flour and 1 tablespoon of the milk.  Stir to form a thick paste. Add this paste to the mushroom mixture, and stir well to incorporate. Now crank the heat to high. Add the milk a little at a time, stirring constantly. After a minute or so, the mixture should be thick. Remove it from the heat, season to taste with salt, and put it into the fridge in a small container. As the mushroom mixture chills, it will continue to thicken into a consistency much like a pâté.

For the Omelette:

2 eggs

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Heat a large pan on medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil. A large amount of oil is essential for preventing the egg from sticking to the bottom of the pan. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, soy, sesame oil, vinegar, and sugar. Pour the egg mixture into the hot pan. Using a wooden spoon (or chopsticks), gently pull the egg from the sides of the pan to prevent sticking. It also helps to gently shake the pan every so often. The egg will not need more than a minute or so before it is ready to be flipped. You can turn it with a large spatula, or, if you’re feeling brave, flip the entire thing by giving the handle of the pan a decisive and quick forward movement. Once flipped, it will need no more than a minute to be fully cooked.

Putting it together:

After toating the baguette, split it open and spread the inside generously with the mayonnaise and the mushroom pâté. Slice the egg and place it in the baguette. Top with the pickled carrot, cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, and red onion.

You’ll find that this sandwich is incredibly versatile, and that, assuming you have a few of these things on hand, you can make something incredibly satisfying. This is also the perfect thing to make for a crowd of hungry people.

Enjoy!

 

Bombay Chicken Pot PieIf you’re anything like me, despite your best efforts to exercise some amount of restraint amidst the grotesque hedonism of the holiday season, you find yourself now on the other side, sitting down in front of the computer, stomach distended, frowny-faced and farty, wondering what might be psychologically wrong with you. In truth, you didn’t really hold back. You just talked a big game. You swore that you would not indulge in second helpings, that you would refrain from multiple cups of grog, that you would remain mindful and aware of the great privilege that you were born in the big fatty, fat USA. And yet, at some point late in the evening, the day after Thanksgiving, you were there in the dining room with family and friends, slowly nibbling a cold sparerib, gesturing with it inappropriately, and gulping down a room-temperature glass of whiskey in which you didn’t even bother to toss an ice cube or a splash of water. Perhaps what is most abhorrent, but also undeniably true, is that in a day or so, you’ll be back at it. No, not with the same reckless abandon. Something will feel different. You will have taken a day to cleanse and detoxify your body with a juice fast. You will have done at least one vinyasa. 12 hours will have passed where hard alcohol did not touch your lips. And then, with little warning, desire will return. Craving will take you over. Your fridge will still be piled high with leftovers, and best not to waste them, you will make this recipe.

pan-seared chickenIf your Thanksgiving table this year was at all traditional, I’d imagine there was some variation on meat and potatoes. Perhaps your clan tried something new and went for roast duck or cornish hens. Maybe you opted for herb-roasted– in place of the gloriously buttery mashed–potatoes. Whatever the case, there are tons of ways to save your leftovers from an untimely death sentence to the trash. And the best way to enliven them is through the careful and considerate use of spices. If you’ve been around my kitchen lately, you know that I’ve been experimenting with indian food. You know that I’ve been reading the cookbooks of Madhur Jaffrey, a well-respected voice of Indian cookery. Here and there, lulled into a quiet reflection, I find myself studying those pages intimately, as if they shared wisdom more precious than that of the Bhagavad Gita.

I have always had a deep love of Indian food. It is at once comforting and exotic, familiar and elusive, marked by a beguiling array of fresh and dried herbs and deeply fragrant spices. Truth be told, I have never been very good at making it. My early attempts seemed to have all the right ingredients, and yet the dishes never seemed to come together. Really good indian food, especially the kind that calls for myriad spices, is captivating and harmonious. It is alchemical.

IMG_7857But don’t you worry. The story of my own struggle with trying to understand indian food is not meant to scare you away from trying this dish. In fact, this one is really quite simple.

Bombay Chicken Pot Pie serves 4 or 5

Ingredients:

(for the filling)

4 cooked chicken thighs(or an equal amount of cooked turkey or duck)

1 very large potato, diced and cooked(you could also use leftover mashed potatoes)

2 carrots, diced and cooked

2 cups frozen peas

2 large onions, diced

8 cloves garlic, crushed

3 tsps whole cumin seeds

2 tsps whole coriander seeds

1 tsp mustard seeds

2 tsps paprika

1/2 tsp turmeric

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp flour

3 1/2 cups chicken broth

juice of half a lemon

 

(for the pie crust-from Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook)

9 oz ap flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tbsp sugar

1/2 cup butter, chilled and cut into small cubes

1 egg, beaten

1 1/2 tbsp water

 

Preparation:

To start, we’ll make the pie crust. In a large bowl, mix the flour, sugar and salt. Add the very cold cubes of chilled butter and mix it using a pastry cutter. If you don’t have one, you can work quickly with a couple forks. But be sure not to let the butter warm and melt. When the flour and butter are the consistency of a coarse corn meal, add the beaten egg and the cold water. Mix just until the dough comes together, form it into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and let it chill for an hour.

Meanwhile, coat a large pan with a good glug of oil. With the pan on medium heat, add the onion and garlic. Stir about every 4 or 5 minutes. As the onions begin to turn golden, turn down the heat. The onions will continue to turn a darker hue of brown. This is exactly what you want. In the last five minutes, add the crushed garlic and let it simmer.

As the onions and garlic cook, place the cumin, coriander, mustard seed, turmeric, and paprika into a mortar and pestle. Grind the spices until fine. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, give the spices a whirl in the food processor. If you don’t have a food processor, place all the spices in a plastic bag, place them on a hard counter top, and bang your head down upon them over and over, until the spices are ground or a large knot has formed on your forehead.

Add the ground spices to the pan of onions, raise the heat and let the spices sizzle for a minute or two. To the onion spice mixture, add the chicken, potatoes, carrots. Leave the peas for later. Stir well, removed from the pan, and set aside.

The key to a really good pot pie is a smooth gravy in which the filling luxuriates. To achieve that, heat a large pan on medium heat and toss in 2 tbsp of butter. Once melted, pour in 2 tbsp of flour and stir. Continue stirring and let the mixture cook until it turns a golden brown. To the roux, add the chicken broth, little by little, being sure to stir with a whisk to keep it smooth. Once a gravy has formed, pour the chicken/veg/spice mixture into the pan and mix well. Add the frozen peas. Let the mixture simmer on low heat.

Now we’re ready to roll out the dough. Before we start, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Depending on the size and variety of baking dishes you have, you can either make personal pot pies or one large pot pie. Keep that in mind when rolling out the dough. On a floured surface, roll out the dough, using decisive force with the rolling pin. Gently press a round of dough into the bottom of your baking dish. If you notice any tears or holes, patch them with any scrap pieces of dough. Once the dough has been pressed into the bottom of the dish, fill it with enough of the chicken/veg/spice mixture to come to the top of the dish. Roll out another round of dough and lay it over the mixture, gently pressing it into the top lip of the dish.

Before placing the pot pie in the oven, make an egg wash by beating one egg. Brush the top of each pot pie lightly with the egg wash, dust them with a little sea salt, and into the oven they go. Let the pot pie cook for about 30 minutes, or until the tops are a deep golden brown. To avoid second degrees burns on the inside of your mouth, wait a good 10 or 15 minutes for the pies to cool.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

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My first go at pasta was no success. The year was 2011. Gaddafi was dead, Casey Anthony was acquitted, Occupy Wall Street was on the wane. Winter had fallen upon the bluegrass and the time seemed ripe for a new culinary jaunt. On the docket was a little ravioli number, filled with butternut squash and nutmeg. I don’t remember where the recipe came from, but I know that it was my wife who found it, which means I blame her for the resulting failure. The pasta noodles didn’t call for eggs, and were made only with wheat flour and water. The butternut squash, which was certainly appropriate for Winter, was insipid and boring.  We spent an entire snowy afternoon roasting the butternut, mixing and rolling the pasta, and though we were left with a table of petite and soundly engineered marvels, we sat silently at the table, scratching our heads and wondering where we went wrong. It’s been three years since I have returned to ravioli. I came back to it with fresh eyes, swift hands, and a peaceful heart.

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Truth be told, when I recently decided to make a pumpkin ravioli, I hadn’t even considered my previous failure.Instead, I was at the market, eyeing the last of the pumpkins and thinking of ways to put one more to use. Initially, I was thinking about a spicy pumpkin curry with cranberries, toasted cashews, and coconut milk. I was thinking about serving it over a swath of clove- and cumin-scented quinoa studded with bright green peas. That happened. And it was delicious. But there was still a great heap of tender roasted pumpkin in the fridge. What to do?

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Make pasta, of course. Chop up some fresh sage, caramelize a handful of chopped onion and garlic, and mix it with the roasted pumpkin and grated bianco sardo cheese.

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Pumpkin Sage Ravioli (serves 4)

Ingredients:

fresh pasta (here’s the recipe)

2 cups roasted, pureed pumpkin

1/2 diced yellow onion

5 tbsp chopped fresh sage

3 cloves crushed garlic

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 lb Bianco Sardo cheese (any sharp, semi-hard cheese that grates well would work for this)

Preparation:

Cut into the pumpkin and remove the pulp and seeds. Cut the flesh into quarters. Oil a parchment-lined sheet tray and roast the pumpkin for an hour in a 400 degree oven, or until it is tender. If you’re making your own fresh pasta, now would be the time to do it. Once cooked, let the pumpkin cool in the fridge. When cool, remove the outer skin and gently mash the roasted flesh. Meanwhile, pour a good glug of olive oil into a pan on medium-low heat. Throw in the diced onion and garlic and cook until soft and slightly bronzed. It’s important when caramelizing to reduce the heat as more of the sugars are drawn out of the onion. In the last two minutes of cooking, add 4 tbsps of chopped fresh sage, the nutmeg, and the salt.

Add the onion-garlic-sage mixture and the grated Bianco Sardo to the pumpkin mixture. Mix well. Cut the past dough in two. On a floured work surface, roll out one round of pasta as thinly as is physically possible. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts,  I bear down on the pasta with my full weight using the rolling pin to flatten it out. If you are so fortunate as to own a pasta machine, you know what do to here. You should come out with a very large rectangle. Cut the pasta into 1 1/2 inch strips.

Place 1/2 tbsp portions of the pumpkin mixture onto one strip of the pasta. Be sure to leave enough space between each portion so that each ravioli can be crimped. Now place another strip of pasta on top of the first one, so that the pumpkin mixture is now covered. With a sharp knife, separate the ravioli and crimp them with a fork to close. It’s important to leave only enough dough on the outside edges to hold the pumpkin on the inside. Repeat the process with the remaining strips of pasta. Do not worry if you find in the end that you’re left with irregularly-shaped scraps of pasta and a few spoonfuls of the pumpkin mixture. Simply boil the scraps and spoon the heated pumpkin mixture over it with a bit of butter.

When the ravioli have been shaped, heat a large pot of water to just under boiling temperature. Season the water with a generous grasp of salt. When the water is just about to boil, pour in the ravioli and cook for 4 minutes. Meanwhile, heat a wide pan on medium heat with butter and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. When done, drain the pasta and give it a quick minute or two to cook in the butter and black pepper. Serve with a little more grated cheese, more fresh chopped sage, and a couple drops of champagne vinegar.