Category Archives: Cooking techniques

Aarti’s Kheema

Among my guilty pleasures is “The Next Food Network Star,” which I have found to be a fairly interesting look at what makes someone a good TV host (not simply a good cook, like on Top Chef). I like the judges and find their discussions of the business of TV fascinating. And last season I loved one contestant from the very first episode on: Aarti Sequira, who went on to win the whole shebang with her combination of warm TV persona and delicious-looking Indian twists on familiar foods.

We watch her show, Aarti Party, regularly, and it’s the only cooking show aside from Jamie Oliver’s Jamie at Home that has ever inspired me to actually look up the recipes online and try them. A few weeks ago Aarti made Kheema, a beef dish that she described as ultimate childhood comfort food. (She was raised Catholic, so beef isn’t an issue in her cooking; my friend Kabir is from a similar background and came over shortly after I’d made this; he apparently loved kheema as a kid and was more than willing to eat up the leftovers.)

This recipe is VERY easy. I’m enjoying my new forays into Indian cooking; the technique is very different from what I’m used to: recipes (from Aarti and elsewhere) tend to start with slowly browning onions and then combining them with spices to make almost a sticky paste to which you add liquids and additional ingredients.

Go here for the actual recipe.

Pretty spices at the ready (coriander, paprika, garam masala, cumin, cayenne):


Onions get going:


Lots of garlic and ginger–by far the slowest part of the recipe is prepping them; easily avoided by having Aarti’s ginger-garlic paste (“recipe” at the end here) on hand in the fridge–join the browned onions:


Cook in the spices:


Add a pound of ground beef:


Cook it through, then add water, salt and pepper, tomato (and peas):


Simmer briefly, add some cider vinegar for kick and cilantro if you’re more organized than I am (also I hate cilantro) and you’re done.


We ate it rapidly, with naan.


I know that doesn’t look like much but it really was a very comforting, warm dish. I need to make it again, this time with something green added at the end–maybe parsley in place of the cilantro?

By the way, I think I’ve nailed down another reason I haven’t been blogging. We got recessed lights put into our kitchen last spring, and while the light is now much, much better for cooking, it’s horrible for photos–shadows no matter where I go, harsh light that makes everything look greasy and gross. Blah. I wonder what the solution is for kitchen lighting that works for cooking AND for photos: So much everywhere that the shadows aren’t a problem?

How would you like a Spring Treat?

Well hello! It’s spring. Supposedly. It is going to snow tonight, but we’re ignoring that because the CSA has started up! This year Stone Soup is offering “Spring Treat” shares every two weeks until the summer shares begin in June. They include fun stuff like eggs and treats from other farms–this week we got two pounds of whole wheat flour from another farm in Western Mass. Most of the share was stuff that stored over the winter in the root cellar–Carrots, turnips, potatoes–but the new flock of hens has started laying and there was spinach and arugula from the cold frames. Oh frabjous day!

Spring Treat 1

Speaking of spring treats, I’ve been on a risotto kick, and a couple weeks ago I sprung for some early asparagus and made big batch. Of course, leftover risotto is…not great. Sticky. I like my risotto almost soupy, and the leftovers are sort of depressing. I decided to try to make crispy cakes out of it, figuring that the worst that would happen is that I’d have heated it up in a pan instead of the microwave.

I found that the key was manhandling the cakes. I scooped out each one with a tablespoon (the kind you actually use at the table, not…you know.) and mashed it into cake form.

Risotto cakes

Each one took a dip in panko crumbs, and then went into the pan with a bit of olive oil over medium/medium-high heat.

Risotto cakes

Flipping them required a bit of ginger handling–they aren’t the sturdiest–but they held together.

Risotto cakes

I basically kept poking at the side of one with my finger until it felt like it was heated through. And then we ate them really really fast.

Risotto cakes

CSA Week 7: Compound butter and fabulous corn

The disaster of the previous week’s corn was forgiven once we ate this duo. Oh man, was it good!

The haul:

CSA Week 7

-Zucchini/summer squash.

I wasn’t going to get to the basil before it turned black and sad, so I decided to make a compound butter that I could freeze.


I put the ingredients in my new boyfriend, the Vitamix, in roughly the order implied by a compound butter recipe int he binder that came with it. Unfortunately my butter wasn’t actually very softened and I was using totally different ingredients. Um, oops.


It did work eventually, but it took doing. And it was so hard to get the butter out of the bottom of the blender! I think the cuisinart wins on this sort of task.


The butter could have used a little more zip, but I have loads of it in the freezer so I’m going to be positive.

That night I applied it lavishly to the ears of corn we’d received. I’d soaked the ears in water for about 20 minutes, then peeled back the husk and desilked before buttering and closing them back up.



10 minutes on the grill and the corn was just barely cooked, incredibly tender and sweet.


Another night, I plowed through that summer squash, riffing on a suggestion from my mom to roast it and mix it with feta and mint. I added cherry tomatoes and used basil instead, since I still had some.

(I didn’t use the giant one in the end.)



The downside was using a 450 degree oven on a hot day. And I was too eager and put the tray in before the oven was hot enough, so the squash softened before getting really brown. Luckily I have plenty more where that came from to try again!




We ate it with sausage:

I made leftovers into a killer sandwich the next day, btw. And it would also be great tossed with pasta.

I had my baby shower this weekend! I am just 2.5 weeks out from my due date, if you can believe it. I don’t think I’ve posted a single photo of myself since I have been showing, so here you go, complete with a giant flower showing where the baby is. Between the hand gestures and the weird talking facial expression this is a very accurate photo of me!

Baby shower

My friends Lauren and Megan hosted in Lauren’s backyard. It was lovely, and I ate QUITE a bit of Megan’s totally ridiculous key lime pie. (She’s promised me the recipe. I will fully make this even with a newborn at home.)

Baby shower


And just to be silly, I brought craft-store wood veneer masks as favors, with Crayola markers to color them. Everyone was very sporting about it.

Baby shower

CSA Week 6: Oh, right. Zucchini season.

We were at the lake for the first part of last week, thanks to many of you fabulous people. More on that after the vegetables.

Ben went to pick up the share after we got home on Tuesday, while I lay flat in the air conditioned bedroom and bemoaned the lack of lake outside our apartment. He took these photos, too, and I guess he saw the flower-like gorgeousness of the lettuce and thought a purple pepper would make a nice accent!



-Bell pepper
-2 ears of corn
-Green beans

I still had a bunch of zucchini from the week before, and we are WAY backlogged with eggs, so I decided to make a frittata for dinner and use up some of each. I got rid of my much-hated Oxo mandoline a while ago (HATE HATE HATE) so I just sliced the zucchini thin with a vegetable peeler. (Also Oxo. Not hated.)


Salted the slices a bit to draw out some of the water:


Softened shallots and then sauteed the zucchini briefly:



Added in six eggs, which I’d beaten with salt, pepper and a big handful of grated parmesan.


So to cook a frittata you start by sort of pulling the edges back gently to get the raw egg to run under the cooked. Eventually if you’re my mom you flip it onto a plate (she never splashes egg everywhere doing this, but I always do) and slide it back in the pan to finish cooking, or if you’re less brave and more traditional, you slip it into the over to finish that way. I opted for the oven because I could tell I had some sticking problems.

Before going into the oven:


After (check with a knife in the middle to make sure it has set all the way through):


I also made green beans with shallots:


And steamed the corn from the farm.


The beans were amazing, so fresh and small and delicious. The corn was awful; I took one bite and spit it out. Starchy and mushy and flavorless; I guess it wasn’t really ready to harvest? I don’t know. Blech. I made sandwiches with the leftover frittata; it is delicious cold or at room temp.

Before we left for the lake I used half of a little CSA cabbage and a kohlrabi, plus a non-CSA carrot, to make slaw:


We ate it with burgers so fully loaded you can’t see the burger in the photo!


Ah, Squam. Thanks to the many of you who voted for me in the Rockywold-Deephaven Camp‘s contest, we spent the weekend in the wooded/watery bliss of the lake.

The weather was gorgeous:


The lake is always amazing:


I love everything from the rustic rooms (box fans provided plenty of cool air at night, even though it was steamy in the city) to the birch trees.


We were generally blissed-out and water-logged, and both got pretty tan (as evidenced by my freckles). (Tan, for us, is relative.)


Thanks to all of you who voted, and to John and Becky at RDC, for the fantastic visit!

CSA Week 5: No, I won’t turn on the stove.

Ok, I just looked at the 10-day forecast and there’s no break in sight. The heat, it is here to stay. The stove, it is staying off as much as possible.

This week’s share:


-Summer squash
-2 cabbages (one was a swap for MORE cilantro)

We’ve been out of town or not eating at home a lot, again, so I’m playing catch-up with the mountains of greens in the fridge. Luckily the fresher your greens, the longer they last. Heh. I had two bunches of kale, one flat-leaf and one curly, and no desire to touch the stove, so I finally dug out a raw kale salad recipe I saw over at The Kitchn a million years ago and off I went.


The recipe was for one bunch of kale but it was more than enough dressing for two. After cutting out the stalks, roll up the leaves and cut them into thin ribbons.



Add a bunch of pecorino (I’ve seen similar recipes that use parmesan or ricotta salata), then dress with, according to the recipe, the juice of two lemons and a half cup of olive oil. And pepper. Hold on salt.


Whoooooa. So puckery. I think I should have added more oil but I couldn’t bear to. This was so lemony it was as if I had gone crazy with salt, even though there wasn’t any except in the cheese. Next time I’ll start with one lemon and proceed cautiously, because in theory this is fantastic.

You let the salad sit at room temperature for at least an hour so the lemon softens the kale up a bit. Toasted walnuts would have been a great addition.


We ate it for dinner with toast. I ate leftovers with toast. And then I made egg salad and put the last bit on top. I highly recommend that last idea.


Another thing I highly recommend: Corn Chex. I’d forgotten how much I like them until eating them at Ben’s mom’s house this weekend. I am not a cereal person but pregnancy changes you.


I’ve also been brewing iced coffee using my dad’s method, which is definitely worth trying if you have a Bialetti pot.

And I’ve been hiding out in the living room, where we put in the big air conditioner. It’s a mess because I have my work stuff scattered around, along with things I’m reviewing for my Fit Pregnancy blog. Poor neatnik Ben hasn’t cracked yet, but I’m guessing it will happen soon. Maybe not, though: We’re going to Squam this weekend! Nothing could be better.

Summer food: Variations on a theme

(No CSA this week; we were out of town and a neighbor picked up my share.)

As if pregnancy hadn’t already made me an incredibly lazy cook, summer really lowers my level of ambition in the kitchen. As I flipped through photos from the last couple months there were two things I kept falling back on, each of them easy to adapt to nearly any situation: Pasta salad and sliced steak over salad.

Pasta salad first. I never understood the stuff. It always seemed clammy and gluey and all-around blah. But then I started needing to take side dishes to picnics, or needing a side dish for a barbecue, and the revelations of Lydia’s pasta salad, and Bridge’s Greek version, and the BLT salad from Matchbox in DC all conspired to make me sort of obsessed.

Recent versions of each:

Lydia’s, modified for extra flavor:

(Tomatoes, red onion, mozzarella, basil, pasta. Everything except the cheese and pasta sat for a while in sherry vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper to get juicy. Cheese added once the pasta had cooled.)



(Tomatoes, red onion, bell peppers, feta, olives, summer squash, pasta. Again with dressing the vegetables first and adding the cheese last.)

BLT, again:


(Tomatoes, red onion, pasta, bacon, iceberg lettuce & creamy dressing of your choice (bacon/lettuce/dressing added just before serving))

Meat on salad:

Perfect for nights when it’s too hot to turn on the stove at all. Grill something and slice it on top of a salad that you’ve fancied up with whatever sounds good.

First up, skirt steak (marinated in ginger/soy/etc.) and served over butter lettuce and avocado with carrot-ginger dressing from Smitten Kitchen (I found the dressing bland and need to play around with it more. I might have used too much carrot?):



Next, gluten-free cooking for Ben’s mom, with a totally unsuccessful marinade that we will not legitimize with a link, but with very successful corn salad on top of the greens:



(I have made this version several times (adding avocado to the corn salad, sometimes), but not with that gritty gross marinade, EPICURIOUS.)

And in a variation on the theme, a taco version with ground beef that I cooked with homemade taco seasoning and served on lettuce with corn, avocado, tomatoes and a little cheese. Greek yogurt (instead of sour cream) and crumbled chips added to taste at the table.


Hmm, revisiting these has solved my dilemma about dinner tonight—I just need to decide which one sounds best. I think I want to give that carrot/ginger dressing another shot.

CSA Weeks 1 & 2: Back to the greens

Summer! Forget Memorial Day. Despite the calendar and no matter how freakishly cold or hot it is, the first CSA pick-up of the season marks the beginning of summer for me.

Last week in the first installment, I brought home a light and chlorophyll-packed bag of greens:

CSA Week 1

-Kale (I scored an extra from the new swap box)
-Napa cabbage
-Spring garlic (I think that’s what it’s called. It’s juicy and hasn’t hardened yet)
-Salad mix

I came home and took moody portraits of the garlic.

CSA Week 1

Then I chopped it up, removing the tough outer layers but not bothering to peel the cloves.

CSA Week 1

CSA Week 1

Obviously since I had a pile of kale that and the garlic were going to go together. Per usual. I do love kale.

CSA Week 1

CSA Week 1


This week remained green.

CSA Week 2

-Red leaf lettuce
-Rainbow chard
-White turnips (with greens)
-Garlic scapes
-Basil plant (Which reminds me, the poor thing is languishing on my sink waiting to be replanted. Drat.)

I figured I’d use up as much as I could in one meal, so I decided to cook the chard and turnip greens and serve them over pasta dressed with scape pesto.

I am always amazed by the grit that comes off nice field-fresh greens. Proof of local rain storms!

Greens and Scape pesto

I zoned out while making the pesto, and forgot to add in parmesan. I kept thinking, “this is bland and not quite like pesto,” but I didn’t clue in to the missing element until I was serving the pasta. Oops! Well, that kept it a bit lower fat, right? If you try this, add a good amount of grated parmesan. Anyway, I chopped the scapes just enough to throw them in the cuisinart, and added a bunch of walnuts and enough olive oil to make everything blend and get to the right texture. A bit of salt and pepper, and voila!

Greens and Scape pesto

Greens and Scape pesto

(Adding an extra handful of walnuts with the seasoning)

Greens and Scape pesto

For the greens, I cooked the chard stems for a minute or two, then added the chard, then the mustard greens, and a dash of chicken stock.

Greens and Scape pesto

Greens and Scape pesto

Bacon and feta on top gave much-needed creamy/salty/savory flavors. (I cooked the lardons first, and used the same pan/bacon grease for the greens.)

Greens and Scape pesto

Enjoy the hot weather! We have a busy week coming up, so I’ll probably check back in next Thursday. BTW, I’m now blogging at Fit Pregnancy’s website every Thursday, chronicling my preparations for the baby from a nursery/gear perspective. Check it out if you’re so inclined!

Travel inspiration: Pea salads for spring

Hi! We’re back. We got back a week ago, but you know how that always goes. If you want to take a look at where we were and what we were doing, from my perspective (which means with very few pictures of me!), check out this Flickr set.

One lucky thing about this pregnancy is that it hasn’t changed my vegetable obsession, it’s just made me a bit lazier about cooking things myself. Salads, especially those that don’t rely too heavily on lettuce, make me very, very happy these days, and we ran into a brilliant combination several times on the Scotland leg of the trip: Peas, edamame, some sort of greens and a bit of cheese.

The first (and best) encounter was in the charming town of Plockton, near the Isle of Skye, which despite a tiny population is blessed with a handful of very good restaurants. At the Plockton Inn (needs redecorating but the food was excellent), we ordered the pea/edamame/asparagus salad as a starter, and then I tried to eat as much of it as I could without Ben noticing. Sadly, I’d already divided it between two plates before realizing how great it was.

Pea/edamame salad

Super, super simple, but incredibly tasty. The sweet English peas and earthier edamame are a great pairing.

Later, in a random pub in Edinburgh, we ordered something similar, this time with rocket (arugula) as the green, no asparagus, and with the addition of chunks of feta. This photo is truly terrible, but it was very dark and the one light was coming straight over my shoulder, making big shadows!

Pub grub

When we got to France, I was still thinking about those salads, so on our first night in the house we’d rented I made my own version, using little fava beans instead of edamame.


Market spoils:


We just don’t have local produce like this here yet. It was luxurious.

Fava, pea, asparagus salad

Ben had never prepped fava beans before. He was taken aback by the layers of steps, but was an instant pro, especially at getting the pods open in one fell swoop. He cut the prep time by well more than half.

Fava, pea, asparagus salad

I popped a steamer basket in a pan of boiling water so I could use the same water to blanch the favas and the peas separately. Then I used it to steam the asparagus.

Fava, pea, asparagus salad

Fava, pea, asparagus salad

Such a tiny number of favas. I ALWAYS forget that you have to buy them by the kilo to have enough.

Fava, pea, asparagus salad

I mixed the blanched/cooled vegetables (I shocked everything in the coldest water I could get after cooking; I didn’t have any ice!) together with a mustard vinaigrette. That was a mistake; the mustard overwhelmed the little fava beans. But it was nice with the peas and asparagus.

Fava, pea, asparagus salad

Quiche for me, pizza for Ben, and bread, to go with the salad.

First night dinner

Last night I went for it again, this time using frozen shelled edamame from Trader Joe’s, and a handful of rather elderly-looking English peas from Whole Foods (via god knows where; LOCAL VEGETABLES, PLEASE ARRIVE).

Once again, I cooked the vegetables separately (the peas need 30 seconds, max, and the frozen edamame closer to 5 minutes), then shocked them in ice water to stop the cooking.

Pea and Edamame Salad

This time I just dressed them with lemon juice and good olive oil, salt and pepper (same for the salad greens, in a different bowl):

Pea and Edamame Salad

When Ben got home, I topped the greens with the peas/beans, to which I had added a bit of marinated feta from the WF antipasto bar.

Pea and Edamame Salad

And we ate on the porch—hurray!

Pea and Edamame Salad

With a handful of cherries for dessert:


I hope Ben doesn’t get sick of this anytime soon, because I’m planning on making a million versions of it this summer. Slightly mashed and spread on bruschetta! Served with buffalo mozzarella! On top of fish!

P.S. Vote for Renee‘s community garden grant proposal! Vote here.

Easy peanut noodles for lazy people

Noodle Quest got under my skin, and one night after deciding to try Smitten Kitchen’s adapted-from-GOOP ginger dressing, I thought I’d whip up some cold peanut noodles to round out the meal. My mom used to make something similar, and I’d eat as many as I could out of the bowl before getting my hand smacked away. This comes together in less than the time it takes to cook the pasta.

Since I still haven’t found the right chinese noodles (they’re square cut, not flat), I used regular spaghetti. Worked great.

I used a combination of my beloved local Teddie brand natural peanut butter (chunky), soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, chili/garlic sauce and sesame oil. (This is not the place for a sweetened peanut butter like Skippy. Too much sugar.)


I started by thinning the peanut butter with a little warm water, and whisking it until it stopped looking repulsive and smoothed back out. (Warning: These are not attractive photos. For real.)


Added in the other ingredients and whisked some more:



Added in my cooked spaghetti (I rinsed it to de-starchify) and mixed:



The noodles suck in the sauce as they sit. They started out all nice and glossy (see above), but soon got much drier (see final photo, below). That’s fine, but instead of being overdressed, as I’d feared, they were a little under-dressed. I also will make the sauce sharper next time, since all that pasta dulls it down. I tossed in a little extra soy sauce and vinegar after I’d already mixed everything together, and drizzled with sesame oil before serving.

As for the ginger dressing…. I need to keep trying. It was really bland, even after I added extra ginger. Maybe I needed more shallot? Some garlic? Perhaps my two small carrots were still more carrot than one large? I love the idea (I am obsessed with the carrot-ginger dressing you get on those tiny side salads when you order sushi), and now I have a huge tub of miso, so why not try again?





I am on vacation, so this post appeared today through the magic of pre-scheduling. Comment away and I’ll reply when I get home!

Rooftop grilling and Spontaneous Sabayon

Our friends Megan and Dave live in an unbelievable (if slightly crumbling) townhouse, and a couple Saturdays ago they suggested bagging on restaurant plans in favor of an impromptu dinner party to take advantage of a nice night on the deck.

A mere hour or two later, we showed up to find that they’d prepared a feast of fresh fish, salad, asparagus, potatoes… After staying on the roof until the sun set and we got too cold, we dug in downstairs.

Dinner at Megan & Dave's

Dinner at Megan & Dave's

Dinner at Megan & Dave's

(I am so in love with this table/dining area)

Dinner at Megan & Dave's

Dinner at Megan & Dave's

There was an incident with a cork that crumbled while we were trying to open it, eventually requiring two corkscrews, a knife and scissors to extract enough that the rest could be pushed down into the bottle. Producing a geyser effect. It started so prettily:

Dinner at Megan & Dave's


Dinner at Megan & Dave's
(Note Dave’s grilling headlamp in back of the wreckage.)

The wine was apparently delicious, though. So at least it was worth the mess!

Once we had recovered a bit (and eaten our way through most of the leftover mango salsa), it was dessert time. I’d brought over blackberries, whipping cream, and a Whole Foods angel food cake, since I didn’t have enough warning to make dessert at home. The berries macerated in sugar and lemon juice while we ate, but Dave took a look at the options and decided he’d whip up a nice sabayon sauce to top things off. Impressive, right? Here’s his mom’s recipe:

Cold Sabayon Sauce
From Dave’s mom

5 egg yolks
½ cup sugar
¾ cup sweet white wine (or add extra sugar to dry white wine)
1 Tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup heavy cream, whipped to hold a soft shape

Combine egg yolks and sugar in a heatproof bowl (metal is good) that fits over a pot of simmering water. Whisk yolks and sugar until combined. Add white wine. Set over simmering water and whisk constantly until mixture thickens and coats a spoon and is too hot to leave your finger in. Remove from heat, add lemon zest and vanilla. Allow to cool or, to cool quickly, set bowl in a bowl of ice water and whisk. When mixture is cool, fold in whipped cream. Cover and chill until serving time.

And the action shots:

Dinner at Megan & Dave's

How gorgeous is this double boiler?

Dinner at Megan & Dave's

Dinner at Megan & Dave's

Dinner at Megan & Dave's

Dinner at Megan & Dave's

Dinner at Megan & Dave's

And the heavenly, heavenly result:

Dinner at Megan & Dave's

I have to admit, I’d never made sabayon. It was so simple! And SO GOOD. A huge step up from plain old sweetened whipped cream, and a welcome addition to an only-mediocre cake. The berries were helped a lot by the maceration, and were great with the bit of tang in the sauce.

I am on vacation, so this post appeared today through the magic of pre-scheduling. Comment away and I’ll reply when I get home!