Saturday, March 29, 2008

We've waited long enough

by Lisa

Wow. It's been a long time, friends. Almost a whole month has gone by without us saying even a word. Is anyone still there?

I've been thinking about you, readers, and have wanted to tell you about recent adventures. A lot of important things have been happening around here. One, I made my first hummus from scratch - well, almost from scratch. (Thanks, Soofie!) Two, Steph and I finally (two years later!) made the Salmon in Lemon Brodetto with Pea Puree and had the most wonderful dinner party ever, hands down - mostly because of the creative and hilarious company. (What could be more fun than giving each other piggyback rides around a tiny apartment after eating a delicious meal topped off with chocolate pudding pie?) Three, I ventured out to Blue Bottle - what else is there to be said?

But what I come to bring you today is these to-die-for biscuits. Actually, just hours before, I had made Steph's chocolate pudding (a pot de creme of sorts), but kinda felt guilty blogging about that. It is her recipe, and she still needs to write about it; after all, who do I call every time I forget the three ingredients that go into it? I wonder: did I make these biscuits out of penance? I really still don't like to bake, even though I often get all kinds of urges to do so; where they come from, who knows. But I was kind of hungry, and it's nice to have a motivation to do something I do/n't want to do. I knew I could, for at least a few minutes, trick myself into thinking I enjoy baking if I knew I could eat the result before no time at all. That's what quickbreads are for, no?

After cutting out the shapes (hearts, I know, I'm a softie - what can I say?), I wasn't quite sure what to do with the scraggly edges that remained. I'd tuned out almost everything I'd heard about baking, but I vaguely remembered that it's not a good idea to overwork dough that you want to be flaky. So, tossing the remainders on the baking sheet along with the nicely cut shapes, my roommate Anna teases, "Wow, Lisa. You really don't have much patience for baking, do you?" Hey, hey. I'm just trying make flaky biscuits, okay?

We enjoyed the dinosaur-shaped pieces with honey, watching the pieces as though figuring out what shapes the clouds were forming. Okay, not really. We were busier consuming them than thinking up such romantic notions, but I'm a writer - I feel like I have to say idealized things like that.

But without further ado, let me give you the recipe; I've waited long enough and probably so have you. And, Stephie, I promise to make you a whole tray of them, to make up for making the pudding and these, without you here!

Heart and Dinosaur Biscuits

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick butter (I used 1T less than a stick)
3/4 cup half-and-half (you could also use cream, buttermilk, milk)

Preheat oven to 425. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. Cut cold butter into pieces, and using a pastry blender (highly recommended!), work the flour mixture with your hands or a pastry blender until it resembles pea-sized crumbs. (Alternatively, if you are without a pastry blender, you can use two knives, or your fingers to cut the butter into the dry ingredients.) Pour in liquid and stir a few times to mix. Turn onto a floured surface, and knead once or twice in order to bring it together. The dough should be sticky, resist the temptation to add too much more flour, but you can if you need to. Dust a rolling pin with flour and roll dough to half-inch thickness. Using a floured cookie cutter, cut biscuits. Place biscuits (and the edges, if you want dinosaurs/clouds) on a parchment paper on a baking sheet, next to each other, so that they rise up instead of out. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until the tops are golden. Makes 10-12 biscuits.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Birthdays all around

by Lisa

I don't know how it started, but last summer I made a goal for myself to learn how to cook Indian food. Maybe it started because Indian food occupies a lot of my mind space. Whenever I go see my parents, I cast my vote for Indian. It's something I grew up eating, since my family is from Malaysia and the cuisine there is almost as much Indian as it is Chinese. And it's not uncommon on the way back from class or work for me to call Naan 'n' Curry to order a piece of naan or container of rice. (Yes, they are programmed on my phone.) On top of all that, two of my good friends (one of whom also posts to this blog) wrote a song about the dreamy curry guy at the Naan 'n' Curry down the street. (It's called, well, Dream Curry Guy: The Spicy Remix.) Regardless of how it all started, the point is: I did it! I learned how to make Indian food. I shared a chana masala recipe a few months ago, and here I am back with more.

My best friend, Elizabeth, turned a year older this week. For her birthday, she asked if we could cook together and if I would teach her to make my Chicken Tikka Masala. We used to cook a lot together when we were in college (I say that like it was so long ago), and since it was something both of us missed and treasured, I happily agreed.

We actually tried making it a few weekends ago when we were at her parents' place. I looked up a few recipes and they all looked complicated. I ended up making a hybrid of a few recipes. We broiled the chicken, but in later versions, I found it unnecessary to do that; pan frying was enough for me. For me, at least, it's all about the cream sauce. My version is a little more spiceful than what I've had in restaurants. While I told you above that we ate Indian food often while growing up, I had never had Tikka Masala until I came to Berkeley. When I first had it, it didn't seem authentic to me - it seemed too starter, almost like vodka cream sauce. (Not that that's a bad thing or anything... just not authentic seeming.) So it's funny that my version is more spiceful than even I like, at least for Tikka Masala. It's just that it feels so wrong to cook something so plain. You'll have to play around with it on your own and see what you like, and/or visit the dreamy curry guy at N and C. So far we've discovered that he's most often guarding the cashier on Sunday nights.

Additionally, I recently added Making Rice On the Stove to The List of Lisa's Deviations from the Chinese Culture (the first item relating my use of a fork, and not chopsticks, to scramble eggs). I posted a recipe for spiced rice below, and you can also do it similarly in the rice cooker. And don't forget to call your local curry house for some fresh naan.


I came home one day and these little beauties had been baked. (Happy birthday, Justin!)

Oh, man. Is it okay for me to even like these things? I mean, I have a food blog, guys. I'll give you one if you don't tell anyone I like them. In fact, have a whole tray. (Except for the three I already ate.)

Maybe you've stuck with me so far (even through those pink things) because you're wondering what the question of the week is. It's a spin-off an icebreaker question I was asked at my work meeting. (Yes, I got a job!) I'm part of a team that addresses staff development/training at the University, so the question was: "If you could have a magical pillow for one night that could teach you anything you wanted to know, what would you want to learn? And how would your life be different after that?" So my spin-off is this:

If you could learn any one type of cuisine overnight, what would it be?

You already know mine.

Relatively Easy Chicken Tikka Masala

2 chicken breasts, diced

Marinate in:
1/2 cup yogurt
juice from half a lemon
salt and pepper
around 1/2 teaspoon each: ground cumin, coriander, tumeric, other spices as you wish (cayenne pepper, paprika, nutmeg, cinnamon)

1 medium onion, diced
1/2 inch ginger, minced or sliced
1 small jalepeno, seeded (or not), minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
additional ground spices

1 small can tomato sauce (8 ounces)
1 cup cream

Marinate chicken, overnight if possible, but while prepping sauce will be just fine. I have a hard time giving measurements, since I just grab from the spice set I got.

Heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil in a pan (preferably not non-stick) over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and cook until they begin to sizzle and pop, a few seconds. Add the onion and saute about 10 minutes; don't be afraid to let them get a little brown/caramelized. Add jalepeno, garlic, and ginger and cook for a few more minutes. At this point, throw in any additional spices (e.g., dried ginger if you don't have fresh, more clove if you like it, etc.) and fry until fragrant.

Add entire can of tomato sauce and stir; it seems to help clean up the bits that stick to the pan. Then add cream, stir, and heat.

In a separate pan (I like to use non-stick for this part), add few tablespoons oil to pan, and heat to high. Sear the chicken cubes. They don't have to completely cook here, since they can continue to cook in the sauce; breast meat tends to overcook quickly, so don't overdo it. When the chicken is done, throw it into the sauce.

Let sauce simmer on low or medium low until ready to serve.

Serve with rice, naan, yogurt, cilantro, lemon slices, tomatoes.

Indian Spiced Rice

3 cups long-grained rice, unwashed (I use Jasmine, but would like to learn how to do it with Basmati)
5 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
1 pod cardamom
3-4 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 inch ginger smashed

1 tablespoon butter
1/2 teaspoon tumeric

Combine first set of ingredients in pot. Bring to boil, covered, then reduce to low and let cook for 15-25 minutes until water is absorbed. Avoid the temptation to lift the lid and check; it needs the steam to cook, and the water is pre-measured for this. When it's finished, stir in butter and tumeric. You can also add chopped flat-leaf parsley.