Squash Curry Tuesday, Dec 1 2009 

First of all, yes, I know it’s December and I don’t have to post every day anymore.  But I’m impatient, and this was too wonderful and too easy not to share.  And NCIS isn’t on because of Obama’s speech…but how about you humor me and go along with my first reason, mkay?

When Boyfriend was home, we (unfortunately) ate out quite a bit.  I say unfortunately not because it wasn’t all fantastic (it was) or because it broke the bank (it didn’t), but because I lost out on the chance to cook for my favorite taste-tester.  Instead of spending our evenings making the kind of food we both love to eat, the week became a whirlwind of seeing friends and family, and left me with barely enough time to change out of my work clothes.

The flip side of eating so much food cooked by other people is that it completely renewed my devotion to the kitchen.  We ate a lot of unique things last week – things that made my mind swirl with possibilities and drove me into the kitchen early this week to see if I could recreate any of my favorites.

Unexpectedly, it was actually the Butternut Squash Curry we picked up while beer shopping at Wegmans (by the way, if you have a Wegmans in your area and it has a liquor store portion, go there now – they have a surprisingly extensive craft beer collection, and everything is very reasonably-priced) that really stuck in my brain.  It was simultaneously sweet and spicy, and the squash gave it a deceptive, satisfying richness.  And floating amongst the stewy curry were the teeniest, tiniest, most perfectly-cooked shrimp.  We had filled only a quarter of our take-out container with the curry, and I’m not exaggerating when I said we fought one another for the last bite of it.

When I attempted it in my own kitchen tonight, I wasn’t expecting it to blow me away.  Primarily because I, um, didn’t use a recipe; partially because I’m stubborn, and partially because I would’ve changed up anyone else’s recipe far too much.  I never, ever have whole spices, tumeric, or smoked paprika – all of which are prerequisities for curry in most recipes.  But I did have a battery of other spices at my disposal, and since curry powder, cayenne, and paprika were among them, I decided to wing it.  I also didn’t have the eensy little shrimp that were so sweet in the first curry, but substance-wise, they weren’t terribly important to the overall taste.

And boy, was I ever right about all those thoughts – I didn’t miss the shrimp, and I certainly didn’t care if it was a proper curry.  It was damn good. And honestly, it couldn’t be simpler to make: there’s maybe 10 minutes of active cooktime here, so even though it needs about 45 minutes on the stove, it doesn’t need to be babysat.  I have no doubt that it would improve with age if left in the fridge overnight…not that I’ll ever know, since I ate every last bit of it tonight.

Sidenote to my darling Boyfriend: not only is this super easy and so delicious, but you can freeze it.  Or refrigerate it.  Or eat it all at once.  And if you have the spices, it’s literally 3 ingredients – I think your grocery budget can absorb that.

Squash Curry

I think I used a kabocha squash, but Mom can’t remember what the sign said, I can’t remember what she told me, and we’d already used part of the squash for something else so it wasn’t whole.  Regardless, I think the kabocha would be a good choice, as would the butternut, but I would venture to say that any winter squash you have (I’m looking at you, CSA participants) would would work.  Also, I didn’t think that this was terribly spicy, but Mom did, so you might want to dial down the spices a bit until you taste.

1 cup beef stock

1 1/2 cups peeled, cubed squash

1/4 small white onion, minced

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp black pepper

1/2 tsp curry powder

1/2 tsp cayenne

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp paprika

Over medium-high heat, pour the stock into a pot.  Add all of the spices, stir, then add the squash.

Cook, partially covered (let some of the steam out, or it’ll bubble over), for 45 minutes to an hour, until the squash is soft.  Once it starts to break down, mash the chucks that haven’t come apart against the side of the pot.  You don’t have to get crazy with this – you want it a little lumpy, and if you’d prefer, you can certainly leave all of the squash cubes together and have it a little chunkier.

You can also cook it longer than that – up to 1 1/2 or 2 hours if you’d like, though I only let mine go for about 50 minutes, so I can’t attest to what happens that long into the cooktime.  I imagine that you’d want to cook it a bit lower if you were going to keep it on the heat for that long, or maybe just turn it down to low after the squash starts to disintegrate.

Either way, once you’ve gotten it to the consistency you’d like it, taste and season, then eat. I had mine over some roasted potatoes, but anything would work – other vegetables, rice, quinoa…use your imagination.

Dim Sum Saturday, Nov 28 2009 

If you haven’t had the opportunity to partake in dim sum yet, stop what you’re doing.  I mean it – stop surfing the internet, stop reading this post, just get up and go now.

I’ve wanted to try dim sum for quite some time – I had ample opportunity in London when I was studying abroad, and I simply never had time to go when my flatmates were heading to their favorite dim sum restaurant.  Then Boyfriend’s roommates ordered it during my accidentally-extended stay in Boston during a snowstorm, and it’s been haunting my thoughts ever since.  Since I’ve also been pining away for a trip to NYC for the day, I decided that while Boyfriend was home for the week, I’d better take advantage and drag his butt to Chinatown.

Did I mention he’s never been to Canal Street?  You can imagine the hilarity when I neglected to warn him about what he was walking into until moments before we stepped off the subway.  He was, to put it mildly, overwhelmed.  And also, entertained – especially when the police sirens started and the, um, vendors frantically tucked their wares into suitcases and shuffled quickly down the street.

But anyway – back to the dim sum.  For those of you that are unfamiliar, dim sum is like Chinese tapas, except that it generally happens in the morning.  The idea is that rather than ordering off of a menu, the dishes are circulated around the restaurant on carts pushed by waitresses who stamp your “check” to indicate what you’ve eaten.  The dishes are all small plates – generally 3-4 of each offering, depending upon what the dish is.

We opted for the enormous Jing Fong dim sum hall in Chinatown for our first experience, mostly because it got the best recommendations on the websites I read.  Also, it’s huge, elaborate, and reportedly delicious.

Still, I wasn’t prepared for its size.  The line outside was daunting, and while it encouraged us that so many people were willing to wait, I was hungry and I wasn’t about to wait an hour to eat my vegetable dumplings.  I was skeptical when the hostess told me it would be only 15 minutes, but I took our scrap of paper with the number 72 (as she called number 40 to be seated) and stood quietly in the corner.  And honestly?  If we waited 10 minutes, I’d be surprised.  They whipped right through the 32 groups in front of us, and before we knew it, we were premitted to go up the escalator with the other lucky diners.  That’s right.  I said escalator.  It’s that enormous.  We were seated with a group of 5 charming Long Islanders, whose 10 years of dim sum experience were greatly appreciated by both myself and Boyfriend.

As for the food – well, let’s just say, I’ll be going back soon.  Not only was everything delicious, unique, and so cheap, but the experience itself was invaluable.  So festive, so original – by far one of the coolest restaurants I’ve ever been to.  I may not have tried the tripe or chicken feet this trip, but hey – baby steps.  It’s not like it’s the last time I’ll be enjoying dim sum.

Peanutty Soba Noodles Friday, Nov 13 2009 

P1040368

This dish went through quite an evolution from conception to execution.  First of all, I’ve never cooked (maybe I’ve never even eaten) soba noodles, which are made out of buckwheat.  The natural use for them, since they’re Japanese, is some sort of Asian noodle-bowl creation, which was my plan.  I wanted to cook the noodles to al-dente, then toss them into a pan with some matchstick vegetables, hoisin, peanut butter, and soy sauce, and finish everything together to really get the sauce to cook into the noodles.

Instead, Mom came home from Brother’s football game and said to me “Oh my god, please tell me you’re cooking!”  So I shrugged, belatedly doubled the entire recipe halfway through, and added some cubed-up pork.  The noodles went far beyond al-dente (oops), and the vegetables I added late in the game weren’t matchsticked, as Mom doesn’t like them that way.  So as for this recipe – give it a little wiggle room.  Taste as you go, season how you want, and if it comes out as tasty and spicy as ours did, you hit the nail right on the head.

P1040371

Peanutty Soba Noodles with Pork

Serves 2-3

2 tbsp olive oil

1-2 tsp minced garlic

2 tbsp thinly chopped red onion

2-3 tsp hoisin sauce

2-3 tsp creamy peanut butter

2-3 cups matchsticked vegetables (I used eggplant, zuchini, yellow squash, and red pepper)

2 tbsp beef stock

2-3 tbsp soy sauce (sounds like a lot, and it is, but this and the hoisin replace any salt in the dish – feel free to start sparingly and work your way up)

Red pepper flakes to taste

1 lb. cubed pork

Cook the soba noodles in boiling, salted water for 4-5 minutes, or until al-dente.  Drain and set aside.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon of oil.  Add cubed pork.  Turn/stir cubes every few minutes to ensure even cooking.

In a separate pan, also over medium heat, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  Add garlic and onion, and cook 1-2 minutes.  Add broth, peanut butter, and hoisin, and mix together with onion and garlic in the bottom of the pan to create a pan sauce.  Add vegetables and stir to coat everything.  Add soy sauce and red pepper flakes.  Once vegetables are nearly cooked, add the cooked pork to the pan, followed by the pasta.  Stir and cook until noodles are at desired tenderness and vegetables and meat are cooked through.

P1040374

 

GUESS WHAT!?  Boyfriend’s back in town!  Well, actually we’re BOTH out of town: we’re in State College, Pennsylvania watching the Nittany Lions beat the pants off of the Hoosiers in their last home game of the season!!  Since we’ll be cuddling under the Penn State Snuggie I sent him last week (seriously) and tailgating all day, someone should be enjoying some healthy meals – stay tuned for more of the same for the rest of the weekend!

Wontons Monday, Oct 26 2009 

In the interest of full disclosure (What’s that?  You don’t want to know all  my deep dark secrets? Too damn bad.), I feel that I should warn you of the impending photographic horrors about to be inflicted upon you during these next few posts.  My photography skills are not legendary, friends, and some recipes just don’t lend themselves to beautiful photos.  Wontons are one such dish.  That does not, however, mean that they weren’t completely delicious.

P1040194

I’m not sure what it is, but I’ve had Asian food on the brain bigtime lately.  Maybe the reason is that Boyfriend’s roommates were in the process of ordering dim sum last week when I was supposed to be on a plane, and even though my flight was delayed for two and a half hours (thank you, shitty snowy OCTOBER weather), I wasn’t there late enough to partake.  Instead, I ate at Wendy’s.  It honestly had not occurred to me that the entirety of Logan airport would be closing up shop for the night when I strolled up at 7:30, a half hour after this plane was originally scheduled to depart.  I mean really?  Did anyone else know that those check-in kiosk things only operate till 6PM?  Or that only one person works at each airport check-in counter at that time of the night on a Sunday?

I digress.  But when I finally flung myself into bed at 1AM after what could have been a much shorter day of traveling and a much more satisfying dinner, I was still salivating for the Asian food I had missed out on…for the entire two minutes it took me to pass the hell out and sleep like a rock until my god forsaken alarm went off at the absurdly early (and dark) hour of 7AM.  And after my 12-hour day of work, I dragged my tired self home to make the dinner I had been wanting for a full 24 hours.

P1040184

There was little to no plan involved here.  I did no shopping – if it wasn’t already in the fridge, I wasn’t eating it that night – and I sort of just started pulling ingredients out and adding them to the pan all willy-nilly.  Considering this, and the fact that my eyes were hardly open, I was pleasantly surprised astonished to find that I had actually created something so delicious that I made it again, from the beginning, the next night, so that I could measure and photograph it.  Not that the photographing portion of the evening went particularly well, but hey – the cooking part was a raging success, and isn’t that why you’re all here to begin with? That’s what I thought.

P1040192

Vegetable Wontons

Serves one

1 tsp minced garlic

2 tsp olive oil

1/8 cup chopped onion

1/4 cup chopped celery

2 baby carrots, grated

1 tbsp chopped red pepper

1/4 cup chopped eggplant

1 tsp chopped walnuts

1 1/2 tsp chunky peanut butter

1/2 tsp soy sauce

1 tbsp beef broth

Wonton wrappers

Extra soy sauce, salt and red pepper flakes to taste

In a saucepan over medium-high heat, heat oil.  Add garlic and onion and cook until transluscent and slightly brown.  Add the rest of the vegetables and cook till soft.  Add peanut butter, beef stock and soy sauce, mixing everything together to coat all the vegetables.  Add walnuts, stir to combine.

On a sheet of waxed paper, lay separated wonton wrappers flat.  Place about a teaspoon of filling in each wrapper, then seal by dipping your finger in water and running along the rim of the wrapper.  Fold wrapper over filling and squeeze egdes together.

Heat a large pot of water to just under a boil, then drop in wontons in small batches, cooking (but not boiling) until transluscent.  Remove from water and place in bowl.  Top cooked wontons with salt, red pepper, and soy sauce.