Thursday, August 31, 2006

Sweet and Savory Plantain Chips

Plantains always beckon to me in the grocery store. They're just exotic enough to have appeal, but with a soothingly familiar banana-like appearance. The Human Vacuum isn't a big fan of this recipe, but I find it addictive. The key is to use a heavy hand with the salt. I prefer plain old kosher salt, but if you want to try fancy, chunky salt, go right ahead. For some reason, I often wind up serving these with fish. I put an attractive and reasonable size mound on my plate, and the eat the rest out of the serving bowl--compulsively--during the end-of-dinner conversation.

Plantain Chips

Peel and cut into thin coins:
2 yellow/black plantains
The easiest way to peel plantains is to cut off the ends with a small, sharp knife, then score the flesh all the way down the length in two places and force the peel off. The blacker the skin, the easier it will be to remove. If the plantains are very unripe, you may have to peel them like an apple, cutting the skin from the flesh all the way around. For this recipe, very ripe plantains are best, to get the most sweetness possible.

In a large skillet, heat:
4 Tablespoons peanut oil

Fry the plantains in batches, cooking each batch until golden on both sides, about 4 minutes. Dust heavily with:

Eat as hot as possible, without actually burning your face off.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

From MY Rasoi: Rose-Scented Yogurt Cake with Cardamom Vanilla Syrup

I poached a batch of peaches awhile back, with a vanilla bean and cardamom pods floating in the sugary syrup. The peach taste isn't very strong, but the skins of the white peaches dyed the syrup pink. It's actually the color I think of an Indian Barbie pink, because it perfectly matches the sari "owned" my mother's vintage 1960s Barbie. The vanilla bean and cardamom left tiny black flecks from their seeds--and a lot of flavor. So when it came time to assemble my entry for the From My Rasoi Indian Dessert Challenge, I couldn't resist reaching into my fridge for the leftover jar of Indian Barbie pink syrup.

The cake is excruciatingly simple. It's Clotilde's yogurt cake, of which I've also made a tangerine version. Follow either link to get the recipe. In this iteration, I substituted rosewater for the rum, and replaced half the sugar with my poaching syrup.

NOTE: Stay tuned for the roundup of the other, excellent From My Rasoi entries.

Cardamom Vanilla (Peach) Syrup

I started by poaching peaches for an unrelated dish, but you could just as easily make the syrup without the peaches and use a bit of food coloring instead. That said, the peaches are great eaten cold in yogurt for breakfast, or warm with ice cream for dessert.

While the cake is baking, combine in a heavy-bottomed saucepan:
3 cups water
3 cups confectioners or superfine sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
6 cardamom pods, crushed

Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and add 8 peaches, cut in half, if you have some use for them. Simmer peaches until soft, then remove with a slotted spoon. Continue to simmer syrup gently until it thickens slightly. Let cool, then serve poured pooled around a slice of the rose-scented yogurt cake. Don't worry about the fact that the syrup is ultra-sweet; the cake is quite mild and unassuming.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Vaguely Asian Shrimp Cocktail

OK, I know that serving unusual things in martini glasses is so over, but I can't resist a pun--or anything in a martini glass--so just deal with it. This is my variant on shrimp cocktail, inspired by leftovers from a vaguely Asian dinner last week.

There's cheating involved, in the form of bottled spicy peanut sauce. I've tried to make my own peanut sauce, really I have. But it never seems to come out better than the kind in the bottle, and I always wind up having to pick tiny fractured peanuts out of the blades of various household appliances when I'm done. But by all means, make your own peanut sauce if you're some kind of Martha Stewart goody-goody. Incidentally, you can win back a few authenticity points if you acquire your bottled peanut sauce at a shop in Chinatown where nothing is labeled in English. Just be sure to tell a colorful story about your trip into the heart of chinatown at the dinner table.

I cooked the shrimp myself in water infused with lots of garlic and onion (Zatarains's Shrimp and Crab Boil does the trick, as would actual garlic and onion, I suppose) but precooked shrimp would work just fine, too.

Vaguely Asian Shrimp Cocktail

In a large pot, bring many quarts of water to boil.

While waiting for water to boil, heat in a large skillet:
2 Tablespoons peanut oil
1 Tablespoon toasted sesame oil

Stalks of 1 head bok choy, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (leaves reserved)

Cover pan and wait for stalks to soften, about 3 minutes. Then add:
Leaves of 1 head bok choy, roughly chopped
2 Tablespoons soy sauce

Cook, uncovered, until leaves have wilted.

When the water in the other pot boils, add:
1 pound shrimp
1 bottle Zatarain's Shrimp and Crab Boil (optional)

Cook until just pink on the outside and opaque in the middle, then drain and rinse with cold water right away.

Peel shrimp, if necessary, and chop in 1/2 inch pieces, unless shrimp are already fairly tiny. In a large bowl, combine shrimp and bok choy with:
1-2 glubs spicy peanut sauce

Use just enough to bind the ingredients together, not enough to make the mixture gluey.

Serve in individual cocktail glasses, sprinkled generously with sesame seeds.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Salmon with Golden Kiwis and Avocado

Fun facts about kiwis:
1) It annoys New Zealanders that we refer to the fruit species actinidia deliciosa as "kiwis." To them, a kiwi is (a) a bird, (b) a New Zealander, (c--last and least) a fruit.
2) Golden kiwis, or Chinabells, are sweeter and more tropical-tasting than ordinary kiwis.
3) Two to three kiwis a day actually will keep the doctor away. (Well, at least the cardiologist)
4) There is a special verb (and perhaps a special utensil), invented just for kiwis: sloop.

The plate you see above is a creation of the Human Vacuum. He hit Costco earlier that day and came home with a slab of fresh salmon and a giant carton on sweet, ripe Golden Kiwis. Also, a large net sack of avocados and an oversized bag of Tostitos. I was lollygagging somewhere else in the house, and by the time I arrived in the kitchen, this masterpiece or bulk purchasing was already well underway.

Salmon with Golden Kiwis

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Rinse and pat dry:
1 lb. salmon filet

Rub with:
1 Tablespoon olive oil

In a small bowl, gently combine:
2 Golden Kiwis, roughly chopped (regular kiwis would work, too, maybe with a little honey added)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
(To get the fruit out from the prickly skin, cut the kiwis in half, then scoop out chunks of flesh with a spoon. This is easier and less wasteful then trying to remove the skin with a paring knife)

Place the filet in a foil-covered baking pan, then pour the kiwi mixture over the salmon. Bake until salmon is opaque, approx. 10 minutes. If you are a badass, and have a blowtorch, maybe try caramelizing the kiwis. We were too lazy/hungry.

Eat with a side of guacamole and chips.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Truite aux Amandes at Bouchon: Vegas, Baby

It's our first night in Vegas. We're hungry but not the kind of hungry where a Vegas buffet seems like a good idea. A small sound scratches at the back of my brain--"Katherine, you just read something about a great meal in Vegas. Think!" And then it came to me: Sam's glowing, boozy review of Thomas Keller's Bouchon Las Vegas. A quick call, and a mad dash around the Venetian in a desperate attempt to find the restaurant while avoiding faux gondolas and faux bosoms--and voila!

I started with a glass of Pastis diluted with icy spring water. I've been chasing this particular cocktail for years, ever since I saw a particularly lovely bohemian French woman drink one at a bar in Paris in the wee hours of a scorching summer night. I could have just asked for help tracking it down, of course, but the logic went like this: The appeal of the drink is how fabulously in-the-know and breezy one appears while consuming it. That is negated by not knowing the name of the drink or how to order it. But everyone in Vegas is vulgar, right? So where better to be a stupid American asking for a peculiarly French drink than in a parodically Venetian hotel on The Strip, right? The drink was all I dreamed it would be, headily anise-scented and golden color when served. It turns opaque when mixed with the cold water, which I did liberally since (a) the liquor was very strong and (b) it was 110 degrees outside.

But even these glories were forgotten after the first bite of my main course: Truite aux Amandes, with green beans and brown butter. The almonds were toasted. Really toasted. They were a uniform just-this-side-of-scorched brown. The trout was meltingly delicious. The beans had the perfect bite. The butter was...buttery.

Other than the bread--the remains for which are visible at the top of the photo above--the rest of the meal was forgettable. As was nearly everything else we ate in Vegas. But the trout and the Pastis alone were the cross-country trip.

Thanks, Sam.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

From My Rasoi: Indian Dessert Challenge

My love for Indian food knows no bounds. I gleefully consume bhel puri, saag paneer, aloo gobi, and all manner of dosas--often in a single sitting. But when it comes to dessert, the good people of the Indian subcontinent pretty much suck.* This black mark on an otherwise transcendent cuisine must be erased.

Thus, August's From My Rasoi challenge: Improved Indian Dessert.

From My Rasoi was originally conceived by Hooked on Heat, who asks us to fuse Indian spices or techniques with other food cultures. In this case, Improved Indian Dessert could mean:

1) Creative fusion of Indian flavors in a cake, pie, tart, brownie, or other non-traditional Indian dessert technique.
2) A traditional Indians dessert, altered to appeal to the Western palate.
3) Any treat that would be particularly good after a great Indian meal, including beverages, candies, etc.

The rules:
Make a dessert with an Indian twist and email by Friday, August 25. I'll post a roundup with pictures by the end of the month.

Together, we can save Indian dinners everywhere from lame dessert and lackluster sweets. Plates of sliced mango with sticky rice--begone!

*Note: This is what is known as exaggeration for effect. Of course, some Indian desserts are decent. But it's high time curry and chocolate became friends, and you know it.