Saturday, December 22, 2007

In Honour of MY Jordan

So sorry to have been gone so long -- the holidays came, dontcha know, and computer problems and, well, while i definitely cooked out of my cookbooks, i didn't have the chance to write them down for you all. however, i am making up for lost time by wanting to share with you some of the lovely recipes we created.

Jordan Michael Morris. cool name, huh? the jord-man, as i call him, is my nephew, a tres cool dude of amazing heart and soul who always brings a smile to my face. always. what has that got to do with anything? just watch, my young friends.

this particular day, i opened up one of my fave cookbooks (yes, i know, i have a LOT of favorite cookbooks, but, what can i say?). it is called FEAST FROM THE MIDEAST by Faye Levy. this cookbook also goes on to claim it contains "250 sun-drenched dishes from the Lands of the Bible". oh, yeah. i do believe i have mentioned my incredible penchant for middle eastern cooking (shawarmas are my dream food -- if i had my way, i would have a whole shawarma spit set up in my house). we are lamb lovers and i think that's why i love middle eastern cooking so much. middle eastern/mediterranean cooking has methods that show that meat off to its best advantage. my mom also cooked lamb well, so i was never one of those people who didn't like it. i always loved it. i know a lot of people who don't, but, i promise, if someone gave me just a little bit of time, i could change their mind about lamb. for sure.

but i digress...

Feast from the Mideast. i found a wonderful recipe in which i could use some lamb i had thawed out the night before and was kind of quick. it was LAMB AND RICE PILAF WITH YOGURT SAUCE and it is a little Bedouin dish that has become, per the book, the national dish of Jordan. i saw that and just KNEW i had to make it. i had to. jordan... Jordan... walk with me, talk with me:

3-6 tbs. samnah, ghee or butter, or equal pars butter and margerine or butter and vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 to 2 pounds lamb shoulder, trimmed of excess fat and cut in 1-inch cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 cups water
2 tbs Seven Spices blend or 1 tsp ground allspice, 1/2 teapoon ground cinnamon, and a pinch gound cardamom
1 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
3 cups hot chicken, beef or veggie broth or water
1/2 cup slivered almonds or pine nuts, or 1/4 up of each
Creamy Hot Yogurt Sauce (trust me)
4 to 6 pieces fine, fresh lavash or 4 to 6 fresh pita breads

what to do:
1. heat 1 to 2 tbs samnah (or butter, or mixture...) in heavy stew pan. add onion and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes or until beginning to turn golden. Add lamb and saute until meat browns lightly, stirring often. Add salt, pepper, water and spices and bring to a boil, stirring often. Cover and simer over low heat for 1 hour or until lamb is tender, stirring occasionally.
2. Remove meat with a slotted spoon and measure broth. Return the lamb to the pan, add 1 cup broth, cover, and keep it hot. Reserve 1 1/2 cups of the broth to make the yogurt sauce. Measure remaining broth and add enough water to make 3 cups.
3. to prepare the pilaf, heat the 3 cups liquid in saucepan or in the microwave until hot, and reserve. heat 2 or 3 tbs samnah or butter in large saucepan. add rice and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or util the grains turn milky white. add hot broth, salt, and pepper. bring to a boil. cover and cook over low heat, without stirring, for 18 minutes, or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. remove from heat. let rice stand, covered, for 10 to 15 minutes.
4. to toast the almonds, place on a sheet pan in 350ºF oven for about 4 or 5 minutes. you can also saute them in a hot pan with 2 to 3 tsps oil or butter until lightly browned. don't let them burn.
5. reheat the lamb if necessary. to serve, fluff the rice gently with a fork. taste and adjust the seasonings accordingly. spread a layer of lavash (or pita) onto a large platter or onto the plates (if using pita, split each into 2 rounds, putting them on a platter or plate with the crust side down). spoon a little of the yogurt sauce over the bread to moisten. mound half the rice on top and moisten the rice with a few spoonfuls of the sauce. top with half of the lamb chunks then sprinkle with some of the almonds or pine nuts. spoon the remaining rice into a separate bowl, sprinkle with the remaining nuts. serve the lamb and sauce separately.

1 1/2 cups plain yogurt, at room temp.
1 tbs plus 1 1/2 tsps cornstarch
1 1/2 cups chicken, meat or veggie broth or your stew's cooking liquid (for this use some of the lamb broth)
1 tbs butter or veggie oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

what to do:
1. mix yogurt with cornstarch until blended. slowly stir in the broth.
2. heat butter in heavy saucepan. add garlic and cook over medium-low heat for about 1/2 minute or until aromatic. remove from heat. stir in yogurt mixture and mix very well. return to medium-low heat and cook until sauce is hot, but not boiling, stirring constantly. cook over low heat for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring, until sauce is smooth and thickened to your taste. season to taste with salt and pepper. serve hot.

here's what we did: first of all, i didn't have any samnah or ghee (clarified butter used most often in indian/middle eastern cooking), so we just used butter. yes, i could have clarified some butter, but i din't feel like it so there :o). otherwise, everything else was the same. i made the yogurt sauce, we cooked up our lamb, put together our rice (no lavash, however -- didn't have any and didn't have the time to make any pita that night). in honor of OUR Jordan, it was wonderful, warming and very satisfying. a perfect cold night dish. the boys ate two servings and i took it to lunch with me the next day. so yummy.

a little story about MY Jordan, if i may:

about 5ish years ago, when Jordan was 17, i was hired to cater a Christmas wrap party for a sitcom. 100 people, me alone, buffet style and all out of my tiny kitchen. i was going to need to set up on set, transport the food to the studio and serve everyone. i needed a second, an idealistic, but practical sancho to my don quixote and i asked Jordan if he was free, could he help -- my teenage nephew who had a girlfriend on a Friday night right before Christmas break... (fingers crossed, oh, please, oh, please...)

he said yes.

o..m...g... HE SAID YES!

so there we are, me, Jordan, a huge empty space, a couple of buffet tables, on set, just beyond the view of the studio audience, setting up as they are shooting the last few scenes. i was swamped, i needed someone with vision to decorate my tables for me while i put together the trays and the food and, well, everything. i turned to my nephew, doe eyed and begging, and without a word, without a thought, Jordan created this really wonderful, subtle, holiday look on the tables (i will not say tablescape, i will not say tablescape... that's up there with "yummo!" for me... deliver us!) that just made everything pull together. it was lovely. and my 17 year-old nephew so rocked the hell out of the night as my second -- plating, serving, refilling, cleaning -- i would have given him my entire take for the evening if i hadn't been so freakin' broke. no lie.

i knew he would. Jordan's just that way. he's this amazingly wonderful spirit with such, i dunno, beauty and brightness all wrapped in this way cool package, i couldn't have been prouder than to call him my nephew that night or, hell, any night, day, infinite eternity. he certainly is someone i respect and admire as a human being. i really like him.

he saved my life that night. honestly. i was exhausted from cooking and i had to cook some of the menu right there onsite, to order, and he jumped right in to take over the job when i needed him. point and click and there he was, smiling, laughing, polite, charming. i got such an amazing compliment that evening when i kept getting asked, "are you guys brother and sister?" no, not because of the fact they overlooked i was quite possibly 23 years older than the guy they thought was my brother (although after the days i had leading up to that evening, don't think i didn't LOVE THAT). it's because the relationship they saw wasn't one of me dominating him or him subservient to me. it was equals, level, a give and take of like-minded compadres. that made my night. hell, that made my whole year and there we were at the end of it.

i don't know if he ever fully realized just how much that evening meant and still means to me. how much it touched me to be able to share that moment with him, that struggle that became so easy because of him. he made it worth it. and i am forever grateful.

love you, jord-man.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Ultimate of the Ultimate in Ultimatism

it's the holidays. i like the holidays. i don't LOVE them, but i do warm to them quite a bit. i enjoy the cooking, the baking, the doing for others through food and love, but it can be stressful. here in kansas you can see the seasons change, feel the christmas-y vibe because of the snow, ice, etc. but there's just as much christmas-y/holiday joy in los angeles even if it's warm enough to sit on the beach right before dinner. it's in your heart. it's true. corny, perhaps, but true. i feel no closer to the christmas spirit as i did on the west coast and i don't jump into the cooking and baking of the season more here than there. however, because there's just the three of us and christmas usually means, well, a spread for a smaller crew than i'm used to, i am more creative than i was before. and that's made it even more fun. that diving into something with my eyes closed and a different kind of confidence.

we have friends coming over for dinner soon who were supposed to come by last weekend. we got an ice storm -- SOOOO new for me and incredibly creepy (and beautiful, actually. the trees glazed in ice, kinda blows your mind with how amazing it looks) -- and decided to hold off on it for another week or so. i had bought the food for our dinner, however, and i wanted to test it out on my kids before i had it for our friends and found this great recipe called HORSERADISH-BRAISED BRISKET WITH ROOT VEGETABLES from a cookbook called THE ULTIMATE COOKBOOK by Bruce Weinstein & Mark Scarbrough. The Ultimate Cookbook. what does that mean exactly? is it going to show me things i've never known in ways i've never known? is it the best that i've ever seen? will i become a MAGICIAN in the kitchen? (i'm such an ass, i know.) i'll tell you after i share what i made, how i made it with you. honest. is it ultimate? we'll see...

2 tbs canola oil
1 4-pound first-cut brisket, trimmed of most visible surface fat
2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 medium carrots, peeled nd cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium turnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup red wine
3 cups beef broth
2 tsps dijon mustard
2 tsps stemmed thyme or 1 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp salt, or more to taste
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
3 tbs bottled white horseradish
1 tbs potato starch whisked into 1 tbs water in a small bowl, optional

what to do:

1. heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. swirl in the canola oil, then add the brisket. brown on both sides, turning once, about 8 minutes. transfer to a large cutting board; set aside.
2. add the onions, carrots, parsnips and turnip to the pot; cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes.
3. pour in the wine and bring to a simmer, scrapping up any browned bits on the pot's bottom.
4. pour in the broth; swirl in the mustard until smooth. add the thyme, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. bring to a full simmer. nestle the brisket into the sauce. spread the horseradish on any exposed portion of the meat.
5. cover and place in the oven. bake until the meat is fork-tender, 3 to 3 1/2 hours (or even 4 hours, depending).
6. remove the meat an veggies from the pot. the brisket is quite tender by this point, so hold it up with a large spatula to keep it from breaking apart. place on a large cutting board. place the veggies on a serving platter.
7. if you want to thicken the sauce, set the pot over medium heat and bring the sauce to a simmer. whisk in the potato starch mixture; cook, whisking constantly, until slightly thickened, about 1 minute.
8. slice the brisket against the grain. place it on the serving platter. discard the bay leaves, check the sauce to see if it needs salt, and pour the sauce over the meat and veggies.

here's what we did:
we didn't use parsnips and turnips -- i'm not really a fan of either of those, which, ya know, means i don't have to use them if i don't wanna. we used potatoes instead -- which is something the book suggests as a substitution to the turnip at least. everything else we did was exactly the same as the book says with a little variations, i suppose. it's just how we do it here.

the report? well, the ultimate brisket is my sister-in-law's mom's brisket. no lie. omg. mimi's brisket is excellently yummy to the point that i fear even asking for the recipe. HOWEVER, this was great for a savory, yummy brisket. mim's is sweeter (i do believe it is glazed in brown sugar, thought i can't swear to it). it's terrific. the Ultimate Cookbook's brisket has the heat and tang from the horseradish and dijon, really tender from the cooking, wine and broth and, well, just a great flavor. i added some roasted garlic mashed potatoes to it, some great sauteed greens with bacon, garlic and balsamic vinegar -- really good stuff. nicholas and brandon loved it. they even devoured it in sandwiches when i sent it with them to school for lunch.

it was our first big deal dinner of the holiday season. and it was amazing.

was it the ultimate?
well, it was damn close.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Chicken, Malaysian Style

i know i've told you about CRADLE OF FLAVOR, this cookbook that "ahs" me to no end. last time, all i made out of it was coconut rice and it was heavenly. honest. since i haven't been as faithful to my trusty blog, i knew you would forgive me (okay, HOPED) for jumping a little more heavily into a cookbook that takes my breath away. this time, i made something that had intrigued me since first reading through this amazing tome. it was NYONYA-STYLE SPICED FRIED CHICKEN, a 6 hour event at the very least, if done properly, and really something that should take a couple of days.

this is a long, drawn out recipe that is rather intensive, so i won't go into all the details. suffice it to say you need to marinate chicken in a wonderful paste/sauce made with shallots and cinnamon stick, beautiful spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric and fennel. lovely flavors like coconut milk with a kick from dried red chiles. you can use already cut chicken, but i like cutting down a whole chicken for this, because it seems to lend itself for more flavor to seep into the meat. and seep it did over the course of 4 hours of marinating (you can marinate overnight if you've got the time -- i actually had the time, just didn't organize myself well enough to get it done the night before), then you take the chicken out of this paste-like marinade, dry it off for better frying, then fry it in hot oil, about 1-inch worth. and, i'll tell you, this was juicy, flavorful and amazing over simple white rice with some glorious sauteed greens with garlic. oh, so good. brandon and i ate it together that night, because nicholas was out with his big bro. he had helped me put it all together and was so proud at the finished product. it took some time, but it was worth it.

funny. i've talked about this book before (by James Oseland) and can't stop wishing i could go there again, be in the midst of all of this amazing passion for flavorful, exciting cooking. looking through the book, touching it even, you know something unique is going on. i so highly recommend it, if for no other reason than to lose yourself for awhile. all of us want to travel somewhere exotic once in our life. this lets you do it every night in little ways, if you want. this sense of island beauty and wonder.

our meal was succulent, delicious and enticed all of our senses. life is good. so good.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Sarah Moulton Gets Me

sara moulton is the food editor of gourmet magazine. sara moulton gets me. she is accessible, a working mom and she loves what she does. you can tell. i don't know if i learn from her as much as i go with her. there's nothing she does that makes me wonder "why the hell am i bothering with you when i could do that myself?" absolutely nothing. even if she's talking about things i know, i do, i have attempted, i still am intrigued by her. that's how i feel about nigella lawson, also. there's really nothing she does that gives me an "ah, ha!" moment, but everything she does is of interest to me. there's a committed passion that comes through them in everything they do -- in different ways, of course. i mean, nigella lawson is this lusty, richly life eating diva of british italian sensuality. she's a bit like the two fat ladies rolled into one with a little sophia loren thrown in. sara moulton is more of the nice home ec teacher who lets you get away with things, is married to the track coach and wears white keds with little white socks when she's being casual. whether any of that is true or not is really unimportant. it's more an observation than a truth, of course. but all of that is to say, sara moulton gets me and, so, i love cooking from her cookbook, SARA'S SECRETS FOR WEEKNIGHT MEALS. the dish we made this particular night is KOREAN STYLE BEEF WITH SPICY CABBAGE. let me just say that this is quick, easy and totally yum. oh, man. i'm not even gonna have you wait for the report card from us, cuz it was too good to hold back. really.

3 tbs soy sauce
2 scallions (white and green parts), thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup)
2 tbs rice vinegar
1 tbs dark brown sugar
2 tsps finely grated ginger
1 1/2 tsps toasted sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced (about 1 tsp)
1 pound skirt steak
kosher salt and freshly milled black pepper
4 tbs vegetable oil
4 cups thinly shredded napa cabbage (about 1 pound)
1/4 pound snow peas, halved diagonally
1 tsp red pepper flakes

what to do:
1. whisk together the soy sauce, scallions, vinegar, brown sugar, ginger, sesame oil and garlic and set aside. season the steak with salt and pepper on both sides. cut into pieces, if necessary, in order to fit it all into the skillet
2. heat 2 tbs of the oil in a large skillet over high heat until hot; add the meat. sear the steak on both sides, 4 to 6 minutes total for medium-rare (which i, personally, prefer).
3. transfer the meat to a platter, cover loosely with foil, then let rest while you cook the cabbage. discard the fat in the skillet; heat the remaining 2 tbs oil in the same skillet over high heat until hot. reduce the heat to medium and add the cabbage and snow peas. saute for 3 minutes or until the cabbage is crisp-tender. add the snow peas, red pepper flakes and salt to taste; saute just until peas are hot, about 30 seconds.
4. to serve, slice the steak thin, against the grain, at an angle. add any juices from the platter to the soy sauce mixture and toss the meat with the sauce in the bowl. arrange a mound of cabbage on four plates; top with the meat and the sauce.

what we did:

first off, let me just tell you that this is a night when we got really into a show called DINNER: IMPOSSIBLE, for which i have a deep, nostalgic appreciation whenever i see it. brandon decided he was going to give me a test and it was this: he gave me three hours to put together an entree and an appetizer using two different meats. go. now, three hours SOUNDS like a lot of time, but when you don't have the meat thawed, it lowers your time considerably. so what i did was make this with some boneless short ribs (took 30 minutes to thaw) and for our appetizer i worked up a quick little dealy-bob with some leftover croutons i bad made for thanksgiving and really thinly sliced lamb. what i did was THAW THE FREAKIN' LAMB (i love my deep freezer, but geez) and, as it was still firm, thinly sliced it easily. and i mean REALLY thinly sliced it. i then seasoned it with some good kosher salt, some turns from the pepper mill, a little crushed, dried rosemary and garlic. i minced the garlic and sauteed it lightly in a pan of about 1 tbs olive oil then added the lamb and sauteed that for about 1 minute on each side (told you it was thin). then i rubbed the croutons with garlic, spread a very thin dollop of tomato paste on top, placed a leaf of basil on it, then the lamb (one slice, curled prettily), then a thin slice of fresh mozzarella and another dollop of the tomato paste. i put together about twelve of these little suckers, placed them in the oven for about 2 minutes (just until the cheese was melting) then took it out and served it. nicholas and brandon just about had a hissy fit of delight over this, so we have added it to our repertoire (and it will be repeated for christmas).

as for what we did with the Korean-Style Beef, well, we made it as it suggested, but without the snow peas (didn't have 'em) and, oh man, was it delectable. such amazing flavors and so quick and easy. really. honest. so quick. i've made this three times since that night and each time the boys devour it. they even like the cabbage enough to eat it all off their plate. no small feat, i'll tell you that.

i know my love of cooking helps in jumping into all of these, so the margin for error is pretty small. but it doesn't matter. even if we come across a recipe that LOOKS good, but TASTES yikes, i'll always adore this kind of dance in the kitchen. it's amazing. i had a great time doing my challenge (i won with 10 minutes to spare, by the way). we have fun with it and, ya know, that's the part of cooking i really appreciate. the delight of it all and the way my sons get completely into it, because of that.


Sunday, December 2, 2007

Why I love to cook...

it's simple, really. it helps me face the day. my life. the world. sometimes, when it feels so, i don't know, out of control and open for way too much consideration, cooking something amazing -- even if it's just the best spiced olives you've ever had -- makes me slow my mind and just be. nothing does that for me like cooking and baking does. writing, which is my other escape, is now also my career. actual, making a living career. and although the writing i do to just fly away in my brain is far different than that i do in my day-to-day, it takes a lot of my emotional energy, in a good way, but still.

cooking takes just as much of me emotionally, but because of its tactile, specific hand-eye coordination basis, i can forget myself a bit more.

i've been cooking up a storm. i'm sorry i haven't been more forthcoming of late. i've been really stressed and crying a bunch. oh, no worries. i'm probably just pre-menopausal or something. or not. who cares? but i've been lost in a cloud of self-doubt and all that kind of fun stuff, so while i've been cooking, i haven't been sharing as much with you guys. and, because of that, i feel as if i need to go back through the cookbooks from which i've been cooking and get back on the ball of sharing with you. recook some of the things i've done or find new and exciting dishes in the cookbooks i haven't shared with you and dive in with a vengeance.

my heart always lightens when i'm in the kitchen, immersed in my pots and pans, my breadmaker and covered in flour. that's why i decided to become so proficient at cooking. because it brings out the peace in me. and to have it satisfy, to convey my emotions as succinctly as it does in such a visceral way, i wanted to be sure that whatever i created had the heart and the quality that would bring joy to others.

yes, i know. how incredibly polyanna and corny, but it's true. i love to cook, because it allows me to show, in a more tangible way, what i'm about inside. sometimes, late at night like this, after a rough moment when i'm lost and alone, i think about chucking it all, selling everything, packing up my kiddles and moving to france to truly experience food and cooking in the way my heart tells me -- with every fiber of my being. then travel the world -- morocco, turkey, egypt, spain, argentina, norway, germany -- and learn more, experience more, see more. to cook with such amazing skill, now that would be something. to learn so much more about what cooking is about, to give in to its siren song -- i think about it a lot. more and more, actually. and, yet, writing calls me with the same vengeance, the same jealous want. but, to do both? to be both and immerse myself in the possibilities of all that this passionate need inside of me begs me to do? is it ever too late to live life to its fullest and dream so large that it fills your soul to bursting?

i don't think so.
i don't think so.