I feel like writing about Thanksgiving. I guess I should dash your hopes of a helpful Thanksgiving recipe against the wall, because I’ve never cooked Thanksgiving before and I don’t see it happening for several years.
Weird as it is (or at least it would be if you knew my family, right Camilo?) my family’s Thanksgiving is steeped in tradition. The family assembles at my cousins’ house. Their other cousins are also present. My dad makes bread, my aunt makes the turkey and some of the sides, the other cousins bring mashed potatoes. Everyone sort of contributes to dessert. We usually arrive in the early afternoon. When we were little, everyone who was not involved in making the meal would go play a game of soccer or kickball, which I think was mostly to get us out from underfoot.
We eat in the mid afternoon. My aunt brings out the nice family silver (which I kind of wish would be passed on to me) and my youngest cousin (who is now 17!!) makes place cards for each family member. Then we eat. My family eats a lot. The funny thing is, I don’t even like Thanksgiving food. Turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing… not a fan. I live for the homemade bread, mashed potatoes, and pie. But I love the tradition. (Are you laughing yet?)
After dinner, when we were little at least, we light a fire in the fireplace and write letters to Santa.
Last weekend I had such a meal planned. My newlywed friend and her newlywed husband were coming over for dinner. I don’t know a lot of people in New Jersey, given that I live in a town full of families but not many adults under 30, so this is not a regular occurrence. I was going to make shish kabobs, vegetarian curry, homemade naan, and pumpkin bread for dessert. I was pumped. I started cooking at 10 am. I made six pounds of curry and stuck it in the fridge, planning to have the leftovers for lunch all week. I started the lamb marinating in lemon juice, lots of garlic, shallots, and herbs. It was cold in my apartment, so I prepared the naan early to give it a nice, long, slow rise.
Then it started snowing.
WTF? It was October 29th. Sure, there had been rumors of snow, but I didn’t take it seriously. I was pissed. My dinner plans cancelled. I told John we were having the dinner party anyway, just the two of us.
Around 4pm the power went out. You may have heard. Thank god my stove is gas and not electric.
It’s okay. We had a blast.
John made us some drinks. Yes, that is a headlamp.
I made us some lamb and pumpkin tortellini.
I cooked some naan on the stove. I know, not quite a clay oven but hey, the result was excellent.
It was like camping, really. We even had a guitarist.
So when you’re looking at apartments or houses, make sure you remember that freak snowstorms can happen, a gas stove is a necessity, and maybe look into a fireplace too while you’re at it.
I’ve probably mentioned that until a couple of years ago I was an incredibly picky eater. It’s probably true that John deserves most of the credit for my trying new things. On our first date he made me try fried calamari and in an effort to impress him I ate it even though I’ve had an incredible aversion to seafood as long as I can remember (right Camilo??). It was delicious. 5 years later I took my brother (the aforementioned Camilo) out for his birthday and surprised him by taking him to a sushi place and actually eating the sushi. Thanks John.
Anyway, this has nothing to do with seafood. Among the food categories I had never tried is Indian food, despite the fact that my Papa is accomplished in the making of curries and such – I just stuck with plain rice, thankyouverymuch. John’s dad, Ron, is a huge fan of Indian culture and food and introduced me to the cuisine and I’m currently obsessed. Also, a new Indian place just opened in my town. We went the week it opened and I hope to go again and perhaps write up a review here.
Last weekend I made a simple vegetable curry for the first time. It was delicious. I think I’m going to play with it a little before posting a recipe but I would like to know… what are your favorite Indian dishes? Also, what’s a good source for Indian recipes?
Update: I made a Chana Masala dish based on (but expaded) this recipe. Delish.
In March, I went to New Orleans and had my first Southern experience, though you could argue that New Orleans has its own unique culture and is not representative of the South as a whole. In any case, it was a good time. Obviously, I spent most of it eating. Jambalaya, in particular, impressed me. Jambalaya is a Creole rice dish that incorporates seasonal vegetables and andouille sausage. Not the deep-fried food you would expect in Louisiana.
So, I went home with a book called The Little New Orleans Cookbook, which holds recipes for classic New Orleans recipes, like gumbo, beignets, and, of course, jambalaya.
After playing with the recipe some and making it nearly every week for John’s lunches, I think I’ve got [my version of] jambalaya down pat. I love how the andouille sausage flavors the rice and how comforting it is to slowly spoon steaming servings of it into a bowl and eat it while reading on the couch. The changes I made are typical Andrea changes: using brown rice, upping the amount of vegetables in the dish, etc. I think you’ll like it.
Jambalaya (Adapted from The Little New Orleans Cookbook) Makes 4-6 servings
If using brown rice, start the rice cooking. The reason is that brown rice takes 40-50 minutes to cook and you don’t want to simmer the jambalaya for that long or it’ll get cooked to death. Bring a quart of chicken stock or water to a boil, turn the heat to low, and add two cups of brown rice. I usually set a timer for 50 minutes.
Dice 2 green peppers, one jalapeño pepper or other medium-hot pepper, and a large onion. Mince 2 cloves or garlic. Set vegetables aside.
Thinly slice some mushrooms. It doesn’t really matter what kind – I usually use about a cup of portobello or cremini mushrooms.
Slice some andouille sausage. I use turkey and chicken sausage that I find at Whole Foods. I usually use the whole package.
In a skillet, start sauteeing the vegetables. I usually start with the onions and sautee them over medium heat in a tablespoon of olive oil until they soften, then I add the peppers. Keep cooking, stirring occasionally, while you prepare the mushrooms and sausage.
In a large pot or dutch oven, brown the mushrooms in butter. I usually brown them in batches so they don’t crowd. Heat the pot over medium-high heat and add butter and mushrooms. Cook for about a minute, stirring a couple of times. Once brown, add to the pepper and onion mixture that is still simmering.
Once all the mushrooms are browned, use the same large pot to brown the andouille sausage. Again, heat the pot and met some butter. Add the sausage and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly browned and fragrant. Add the vegetables to the pot and add 1 tablespoon each of worcestershire sauce and soy sauce. Add about a teaspoon of thyme, 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, and a grind of black pepper. Stir together and add the rice, which should be about 30 minutes into its cooking. Cook the whole concoction covered, over very low heat, until the rice is done (it should be gently boiling). Taste it and add salt as needed. It should still be a little liquidy, which will be absorbed as it cools. Note: resist the tempation to stir the rice too much, which will make it gummy.
If I had children, I’d send them to school with this every friggin day.
Beats a squished bpj, don’t you think?
I don’t have kids. I have John. Guess what he’s been eating all week lately. He loves it.
Baked Ziti is a new discovery of mine. I guess because it’s less work than lasagna and it’s fun, I’ve been making it on Sundays for the sole purpose of sending it with John for lunch during the week. See my thoughts on leftovers, if you’re confused. It’s involved enough that I enjoy making it, but not so involved that I can’t do it every week. AND there are so many ways to change it to suit your needs. Hell, you can even buy sauce instead of making it. You can use meat instead of mushrooms. You have friggin quadruple the cheese if you want. Deliciousness.
Baked Ziti (Inspired in part by Cooks Illustrated)
Preheat oven to 375. Lightly grease a 13″ x 9″ lasagna-type pan. Fill a large stockpot with enough water for a pound of pasta and put it on the stovetop to boil.
Roughly slice 2 onions and 4 carrots and peal 4 cloves of garlic. Heat a little olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat and put the onions, carrots, and garlic in the pan. Cook until soft.
Meanwhile, put in a blender: 1 green pepper, 1 medium hot pepper (like a jalapeno or serrano pepper), 4 stalks of celery, including leaves, and 1 28 oz can of tomatoes. Add a teaspoon each of dried oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Add a few grinds of black pepper. Add the now-softened onions, carrots, and garlic. Blend.
Thinly slice as many small mushrooms as you’d like. Brown them in batches over medium heat with a little olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven. Alternatively, brown some ground beef if you’d like and drain the fat. Add the blended sauce and bring to a simmer. Once it’s simmering, add a bay leaf, about 1/4 cup of red wine, and salt, to taste. Bring back to a simmer and reduce the heat and cover (but make sure it’s still simmering). Simmer for anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on your patience. Taste and salt as needed.
[This makes about 8 cups of sauce, which is also great served over pasta. If you don’t have the time of patience, get a couple of jars of premade sauce and don’t tell anyone!]
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together 1 cup of cottage cheese, 1-2 oz of mozzarella cheese (or more, if you wish. I added some parmesan too.), and one egg.
Once the sauce is almost done and the pasta water is boiling, add a box of any shape pasta you’d like (doesn’t need to be ziti, just make it a shape. Maybe not so much with the bowties.). Cook until al dente and drain. In the still-hot pot, add 2 cups of the lovely, aromatic sauce you have simmering, and the cheese mixture. Stir and add the pasta to the mixture. If you’d like, add some spinach as well (I did!) and stir well.
Add a couple of cups of sauce to the prepared pan, followed by the pasta mixture. Cover with the remaining sauce and grate some more mozzarella cheese on top. Smile to yourself and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the cheese has browned and the sauce is bubbling.
Meals that make good leftovers are a windfall in my house. John loves hot lunches and I shudder at the idea of spending money on food while at work. Leftovers are the ultimate solution.
Along comes shrimp and vegetable pilaf. Pilaf, the way my dad makes it, is so delicious. It’s a combination of onions, butter, rosemary, and rice that creates an aroma that seeps into your clothes. My mouth waters just thinking about it. Of course, I can’t live off pilaf. At least, not in that form. So one day, I looked at the ingredients I had on hand and decided to make pilaf into a complete (healthy) meal… and to make enough for leftovers.
The great thing about this dish is that most of the ingredients are either shelf stable or freezer-friendly. It’s the kind of meal that you can put together quickly and just leave in the oven and watch West Wing while you wait. For those of you who are into “easy,” look no further. Also, it’s healthy. Lots of vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low fat. Can you ask for more?
Note that you can make this dish with white rice instead of brown rice, but the cooking time will have to be reduced. You might want to cook the shrimp separately and add it at the end.
Shrimp and Vegetable Pilaf (Serves 4-6)
Preheat the oven to 375.
Thinly slice 2 onions. Over medium heat, melt about a tablespoon of butter and saute the onions in a dutch oven or a large saute pan until soft. You want to use a pan that can hold about 2 quarts and is oven safe. If you don’t have one, have a casserole dish ready.
Once the onions are soft, add about a teaspoon each of rosemary and thyme. Use more if you have fresh herbs available. Add a few grinds of black pepper. Add 2 cups of brown rice, substituting some wild rice for the brown rice if you have it on hand. Stir the rice into the onions and after about a minute, add a quart of chicken stock. Stop stirring. Bring to a simmer and lightly salt. Cover with an oven-safe lid or aluminum foil and put in the oven. Set a timer for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, peel about a pound of shrimp. I like to use frozen shrimp because I can always have it on hand and I don’t have truly fresh shrimp available. I usually defrost it by putting it in a colander and running it under cold water for about 5 minutes.
Cut up a crown of broccoli or asparagus or whatever vegetable you like best and set aside.
After the rice has been in the oven for 30 minutes, remove the lid and scatter the vegetables on top. Most of the liquid should have already been absorbed. Put in the oven for 5 more minutes, then scatter the shrimp on top. Salt and pepper it and put it back in the oven for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, the shrimp should be pink and the dish should be aromatic. Let it cool for about 5 minutes, then use a big ole spoon to mix it all together. Eat.
Like most people, I discovered coffee in college. I mean, I drank it before, but really just those sugary syrupy gateway-drug drinks at Starbucks (notably Frapuccinos and Gingerbread Lattes). Then, in college, I got really into coffee. You know how I’m really into food? It was kind of the same way for coffee. I remember when I stopped putting sugar in it (sophomore year).
I was kind of cheap (still am). So, I started brewing my own coffee every day instead of paying dear, sweet, scarce money for someone else to brew inferior coffee. Now, I lived in a dorm with a roommate. (Really, a wonderful roommate.) I had a tiny little four cup Mr. Coffee maker with an automatic switch off, because dorm fire safety rules prohibited anything without one. My obsession was obvious – for Christmas that year every single gift I got was coffee-related. I had just started dating John at the time and he got my my first stovetop espresso maker.
He’s always been such a thoughtful gift-giver.
I came home after winter break with a coffee grinder, because I wanted ever better, fresher coffee.
My Mr. Coffee maker served me faithfully for 2 years. Then my Papa got me a cappuccino maker for Christmas and my coffee-snobbery was taken to all-new heights. I spent the summer before senior year perfecting my cappuccino-making abilities. Senior year I would take up an hour and a half before class just to fit in a full breakfast and two cappuccinos. Heaven.
After I graduated, my obsession with coffee dwindled, possibly because I had already discovered how I like it best and I sort of focused my energy into food. I still made capuccinos every day, with an option to use my French Press if desired.
I once visited my brother, who was living in Pittsburgh at the time, and discovered he had no way of making coffee. I bought a plastic drip coffee cone and brought it back with me – it is also an excellent way to make coffee.
Finally last summer, after years of resistance, John finally started drinking coffee. I was pumped. We started going to Dunkin Donuts every morning before work to get coffee together, switching off who pays. My cheaper side kind of got angry with me. So, after some amazon research, I got us a 10 cup drip coffee maker so we could brew coffee at home to bring with us to sip in the mornings.
Yes. Now I have 5 different ways to make coffee at home.
So I almost never buy coffee, unless it’s to support my favorite local coffee shop, Drip. Then, I see it as a luxury. My favorite beans are Whole Foods’ Allegro French Roast, Peet’s French Roast, the Coffee Exchange‘s Santo Domingo Blend, and Burlap and Bean‘s espresso roast. I buy as fresh as possible and grin it myself. I keep beans in an airtight container for not more than a week on the counter.