Sunday, November 30, 2008

Garam Masala Scallops with Acorn Squash


For no other reason but sheer love for Indian flavors, I have been on a curry fix of late. I found this recipe from Epicurious for scallops in a curry sauce over acorn squash. I would not have thought that scallops, acorn squash, and curry would work together, but this recipe turned out very nicely. Not only did it look nice on the plate, but the slightly spicy and creamy curry sauce played an excellent complement to the sweet scallops and squash.

As with most recipes, good-quality ingredients are important to this dish. I used jumbo U-10 dry scallops, which are meaty and rich enough to not be overpowered by the curry sauce. A purist would have made curry powder and garam masala from scratch but I had Penzeys excellent representations of each already on hand, which made for an easy and delicious dinner.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Bastardized Lemongrass Chicken


Still trying to use up the rest of the Southeast Asian produce I bought at Whole Foods last week, I came across this simplified recipe for Lemongrass Chicken from Food and Wine. Although I prefer to cook authentic, unabridged meals when I choose ethnic recipes, after work, I do not have the time nor the physical and mental energy to cook anything more intricate than chopping some veggies and meat and throwing everything into a pan for a few minutes.

This recipe was slightly more difficult than my usual weekday dinners as I had to marinade the chicken (albeit for only 5 minutes) and make a caramel sauce before I was able to throw all the ingredients into a pan. In the end, it was a well-flavored dish, but the result was chicken thighs in a curry sauce, not lemongrass chicken. The curry powder in the sauce obscured the lemongrass and the caramel sauce, making even this simplified recipe seem unnecessarily complicated. By simply throwing garlic, shallots, oil, curry powder, water and chicken into a pan, I could have made an equally delicious dinner.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Salmon Braised in Pinot Noir with Mushrooms


In my last post, I noted the challenges of keeping a well-stocked pantry and how it is always a triumph when I am able to prepare a gourmet meal with ingredients I have on hand. In this regard, last night’s dinner was a triumph.

As four o’clock came around yesterday at work, my mind began to wander from spreadsheets to what I would cook for dinner. With cold weather rolling in, my fridge is always stocked with a supply of fall vegetables that go so well in braised dishes: carrots, leeks, and celery. I also had a pack of cremini mushrooms on hand that I had picked up on a whim at the grocery store last weekend. I searched for a way to use at least some of the ingredients I had on hand, and I came across this recipe from for salmon braised in Pinot Noir. The ingredients:

  • Salmon: would have to buy on my way home from work
  • Salt and pepper: on hand (duh)
  • Butter: in the fridge
  • Celery: in the fridge
  • Carrots: in the fridge
  • Leek: in the fridge
  • Tomato paste: in the fridge
  • Pinot Noir: on hand (surprisingly)
  • Bay leaf: in my pantry
  • Thyme: in the fridge (random Greenmarket purchase)
  • Chicken broth: in the freezer
  • Heavy cream: in the fridge

Could it be? A moderately complex meal that would only require an easy trip to the seafood market to pick up a couple of fillets of salmon? A triumph!

Unfortunately, I found the sauce slightly bland, so the meal was not a triumph on all levels. However, my girlfriend loved it, so I still put it in triumph territory. Perhaps this was the first step to keeping a well-stocked pantry…

Thursday, November 20, 2008

A Well-Stocked Pantry

One of my greatest cooking challenges is keeping a well-stocked pantry. Rarely am I able to cook a meal that does not require a trip to the market to pick up at least one ingredient, and usually I have to get a basket worth’s (and a wallet worth’s) of ingredients. The biggest source of this problem is that I do a poor job of planning menus for the week; all too often, I plan meals on the train ride home from work, stopping at the grocery store before I get home to pick up ingredients, some of which I am bound to already have on hand. Menu planning is a skill that I am trying to improve on. My other problem is that I enjoy cooking somewhat complex meals that do not always contain the “standard” ingredients. Lastly, I normally cook for one; unless I cook the same thing every night of the week, perishable foods that I keep on hand are bound to spoil before I have a chance to use them up. Whenever I am able to cook a somewhat complex meal without having to pick up more than a couple items at the market, it is a triumph. I just wish that would happen more often. Surely other amateur cooks have been able to get around these challenges and maintain a well-stocked pantry. What are your strategies?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Spice Braised Nyonya Pork

Spice Braised Nyonya Pork

Towards the end of my trip to the Greenmarket this past Saturday, a rainstorm forced me to seek shelter in Whole Foods. Soaking wet with a backpack and totebag full of local goodies, a very non-local vegetable caught my eyes: fresh galangal from Hawaii. Fresh galangal? At Whole Foods? I thought that was something that was only found in Chinatown, and usually frozen at that. I knew that it was an omen, so I picked up a four inch piece of galangal along with a handful of fresh thai peppers (another “At Whole Foods?” moment for me).

When I returned home, I immediately pulled out the cookbook that I had in mind when I spotted the galangal: James Oseland’s Cradle of Flavor. The book is full of delicious recipes from the Spice Islands, but I do not get to cook from it very often since nearly every recipe requires a trip to Chinatown to pick out ingredients such as fresh turmeric, kaffir lime leaves, and, yes, galangal. This time, I at least had one ingredient on hand without having to treck down to Mott St.

The recipe I picked out was Spice Braised Nyonya Pork. Pork butt sauteed with galangal and a paste of shallots, then braised with water, sugar, double black soy sauce, rice vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. All of this is reduced until the sauce just barely coats the meat. It ain’t local, but it sure was delicious!


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