Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jamie Oliver's Curry with Tofu


While enjoying some R&R in our hotel room in Seattle during my spring break, The Gastronomer and I stumbled across a preview episode of the new show "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution". Although I usually let The Gastronomer take care of the non-sports TV watching in our relationship, this show had me hooked right away. The basic premise is that British food network star Oliver is visiting public schools in the unhealthiest communities in the U.S. and trying to change the way they feed their kids. Apparently he has already led a successful campaign to completely overhaul the school lunch system in Britain--an impressive accomplishment for a TV chef. However, judging by the first episode, it's not going to be easy repeating the feat in the U.S. You could create a raucous drinking game out of watching the show with your friends and taking a shot every time he says "I think I'm going to cry."

Whether or not he can convince the kids in West Virginia that grilled chicken and fresh tomatoes are more delicious than pizza remains to be seen, but it's good to see a TV show that tries to change the world for the better but still manages to be entertaining. If things in fact continued to go poorly after his first week at the school, I feel like they'll rig the show somehow to make it seem like his efforts paid off. Nevertheless, I'm a little nervous for him.

In any case, when The Gastronomer recently discovered the recipe below courtesy of La Fuji Mama, she knew it was perfect for me. I'm always on the lookout for new tofu recipes, I love curry, and the timing was right. I didn't love it quite as much as The Gastronomer's Vietnamese chicken curry, but it's definitely a winner as a delicious easy weeknight dinner. Just don't be deceived into thinking it's super healthy--coconut milk is some fatty stuff.

Recipe adapted from Jamie's Food Revolution via
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, julienned
  • 8 ounces snow peas, ends clipped
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 bunch scallions (about 7), finely chopped (you can use both the green and white parts)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cans (14-ounces each) coconut milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 15 ounces extra firm tofu, cut into 1-inch cubes
Press the tofu between paper towels to remove some of its moisture.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the bell pepper and cook for 2-3 minutes. Lower the heat slightly and add the scallions and snow peas, then stir in the curry powder. Cook for another minute, then add the butter and stir until it melts. Add the coconut milk. Bring everything to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 2 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt and stir in the cilantro and lemon juice. More salt can be added to taste at this point, but it will be particularly effective if sprinkled over each serving immediately before eating [a trick borrowed from The Gastronomer's grandmother].

In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat the sesame oil. When it is hot, add the tofu. Cook, stirring and turning the tofu occasionally, until it is browned on all sides. Turn off the heat and serve the tofu with the curry sauce over rice.

Yield: 4-6 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 1 hour
Substitutions: At the Gastronomer's suggestion, I added some extra vegetables to La Fuji Mama's recipe. Incidentally, I don't imagine it'd be too noticeable if you left out the tablespoon of butter, for all you vegan chefs out there.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Rosemary Cream Biscuits


These are great biscuits--certainly not the healthiest bread product out there, but simple and just about perfect in taste and texture. They are extremely easy to make--the step that took me the longest was picking and cutting up the fresh rosemary.

The bottoms of the biscuits were browning a bit too fast, so I had to flip them over for the final five minutes of cooking. This led to a somewhat flattened appearance, but it was worth it to avoid a burnt layer.

Recipe by The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons minced rosemary or other fresh herbs
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and herbs together in a large bowl. Stir in the cream with a wooden spoon until the dough forms, about 30 seconds. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gather into a ball. Knead briefly until smooth--avoid overworking the dough, as it will make the biscuits tough.

Pat the dough into a 3/4-inch-thick circle. Cut the biscuits into rounds using a 2 1/2-inch biscuit cutter of into 8 wedges using a knife. Place the biscuits on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Yield: 8 biscuits
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 30 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 45 minutes
Substitutions: I found the dough to be extremely dry and crumbly, so I ended up adding an extra ~1/4 cup of cream.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Castilian Stew


When I originally drew up the menus for The Gastronomer's 2008 Christmas present, I intended for the final meal to culminate with chicken cordon bleu. At the time, wrapping one meat in another seemed like an appealingly extravagant conclusion to my series of culinary efforts. However, I somehow managed to forget that chicken is The Gastronomer's least favorite animal to eat, and besides, maybe the venerable dish was never all that cool to begin with...

A substitution had to be made, and with the weather cooling down, this Spanish stew from the Barcelona Wine Bar and Restaurants cookbook seemed like an ideal choice. Despite my bastardization of the recipe (see below), it turned out really well. I served the stew with rosemary cream biscuits from the The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook.

Recipe by The Barcelona Cookbook
  • 1/2 pound ham, finely diced
  • 1/2 pound slab bacon, finely diced
  • 2 cups diced smoked Spanish chorizo sausage (about 4 links)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped garlic (one whole head)
  • 1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 2 cups canned tomatoes, drained
  • 3 russet potatoes, peeled and diced (2 1/2 to 3 cups)
  • 5 to 6 cups chicken stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 cups chopped escarole or a similar green such as chard or kale (about 1/2 pound)
In a large pot, cook the ham, bacon, chorizo, and olive oil over medium heat for 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper and cook for 7 to 8 minutes longer.

With your hands, squeeze the tomatoes to break them up and expel their juices. Add them to the pot along with the potatoes and enough stock to cover. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for about 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Push the greens into the soup and cook for about 10 minutes, until the greens wilt and the soup is piping hot. Taste for seasoning and serve.

Yield: 4 hearty servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: Not given
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
Substitutions: I wasn't able to buy smoked chorizo, so I ended up using three links of our favorite Italian hot sausage from Trader Joe's. No doubt this changed the character of the soup a bit, but the flavors still melded nicely. I bought a large bunch of swiss chard, and even though it was probably 8-9 cups, I threw it all in because I didn't know what else I'd do with the leftovers. This worked out fine--the stew had more than enough flavor to keep the overabundance of greens from stealing the show.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Smoked Salmon Canapes


On November 21, 2009, nearly 11 full months after I pledged to make The Gastronomer 5 three-course meals as a Christmas present, I finally came through with the final feast. This one needed to be extra special, so I started off with one of her all-time favorite foods: smoked salmon. You might not guess it by looking at her, but she has a Jewish soul.

The accompaniments here are classic, and they work together beautifully. As I mentioned earlier, capers have been a revelation to me; they were the obvious choice among the optional ingredients. I could have been more of a champ and cured the salmon myself, but I stuck with the offerings from TJ's, which did the job quite nicely.

Recipe by The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook
  • 6 tablespoons cream cheese, softened
  • 16 slices cocktail-sized pumpernickel bread
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh chives
  • Pepper
  • 8 counces sliced smoked salmon
  • 4 teaspoons minced red onion or shallot (optional)
  • 4 teaspoons capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped (optional)
  • 4 teaspoons minced fresh dill (optional)
Spread a light layer of cream cheese over each slice of bread. Sprinkle evenly with chives and pepper. Lay the salmon over the bread. Cut each piece in half along the diagonal. Garnish with the onions, capers, and dill (if using) before serving.

Yield: 8 servings
Estimated Start-to-Finish Time: 15 minutes
Actual Start-to-Finish Time: 30 minutes
Substitutions: I felt that capers plus chives provided plenty of flavor, so I skipped the onions and dill. I couldn't track down any pumpernickel bread, but a standard French baguette worked just fine.
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