Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Summertime Dinner Party, No Ovens Required

It's summer! You've got a deck that was made for entertaining, right? But maybe it's so hot that you can't fathom turning on the stove. Maybe you kind of already blew your budget for the week. And maybe you're kind of over your standard BBQ fare. Never fear though, I've got your back. Here's the menu:

Cocktail Hour
New-School French Onion Dip with chips and crudites (from Food52)

First Course
Pan-Roasted Radish and Anchovy Crostini (from Melissa Clark/NYT)

Main Course
Fish Cakes and Tartare-Style Sauce (from BBC Good Food)
Broccoli Slaw (from Smitten Kitchen)
Israeli Couscous

Ice Cream!

The beauty of this menu is that it the work happens either way in advance or right before you serve. Here's how that might shake out:
Prep the onion dip and chop crudites. This can be done in two parts, but caramelizing the onions should happen a few hours before the party starts.
Prep the fish cakes and tartar sauce. The fishcake mix and the sauce can go into the fridge into you're ready to fry.
Prep the broccoli slaw. This can be completed 100% and tossed in the fridge until it's time to eat.

Once the onions have cooled, it takes 5 minutes to prep the dip, but this can be easily waiting for your guests. This is your chance to sit down and enjoy a drink (I like to ask guests to bring a signature cocktail). The first course takes 10-15 minutes to put together, so as the dip bowl is getting empty, excuse yourself to the kitchen (don't forget the bread needs toasting). Once you've served the Crostini, you can comfortably relax with your guests until you're ready to eat the main course (which will take about 20 minutes to plate, so your call). Start the couscous first, then get the oil heating to fry the fishcakes. Depending on how many you made and how big your frying pan is, you may need to do two batches. The couscous should be done just as the fishcakes are done.

Some Recipe Notes
-French Onion Dip - once the onions have cooled, consider chopping them up a bit, otherwise the strings can be a bit unwieldy when it comes to chip dipping
-Crostini - if you only plan to make 8 crostini, consider halving the amount of butter and oil for the sauce, otherwise you'll end up with more then you can manage - the recipe as it is yields about a baguettes worth of sauce, so consider increasing your radish quantities accordingly
-Fish Cakes - we cooked the fish on the grill, which is just to say that I don't think it matters HOW you cook your fish (or if you cook it in milk) -  we used a cookie cutter to shape the cakes to a uniform size, which makes cooking them a lot easier - we use vegetable oil for frying, but you may have a preferred oil, just don't use olive oil as it will be too heavy
-Tartar sauce - consider doubling the recipe, we had 9 fish cakes and really only enough sauce for 6
-Broccoli slaw - as long as your broccoli is bite sized, it doesn't matter how it's chopped - this recipe yields more than you realize, so for four people the recipe as written is plenty
-Israeli couscous - look, you don't need to serve Israeli couscous per say, but I do think it's really important to provide a carb or starch if you're drinking a lot
-Ice Cream - I'd just march everyone to the local ice cream parlour or frozen yogurt-erie, it was a lot of food, so you'll probably need a walk


Friday, 17 January 2014

Lamb Rogan Josh

I'm working on about a million posts, including a bit about where I'm/we're at in terms of what and how we eat, but if we wait on that we may never see another word here, so...

In a nutshell though, I'm trying to eat better. More whole foods, "cleaner" eating, less junk that isn't delicious. As ever, if I declare I want to eat better (man code, apparently, for diet), D instantly insists there's nothing wrong with the way he eats and maybe if I have a problem with our diet I should just eat less. Not a lot of buy in then from my partner in crime, but that's actually ok, because I think it speaks to the goal of the change anyways. I want to continue to eat things that taste delicious, because even if I could, say, lose weight eating a very prescribed way, I don't think I can keep that up in the long run. But if I can make some changes by eating better in the sense of eating more delicious and healthful foods (rather than eating better as D interprets it which is apparently rice cakes and celery), then that's a change I can stick to. And if D doesn't notice? That must mean it tastes good.

January was made for curry. Having a big pot of something that tastes amazing sitting on the stove all day? I can get behind that. Something that actually tastes better the next day? Mores the better. The last time I made curry I called my mother and asked her to give me her recipe. As ever with my mother though, there's not really a recipe so much as a general sense of how to makes things that she's been cooking for a really long time. It was early on Saturday morning though, I was headed to Whole Foods and needed a list, so I just googled until I found a recipe that looked spoke to me. I had actually started with this Jamie Oliver recipe, but there were a lot of ingredients and I wasn't sure about some of the ratios, so I found this instead.

(Just a quick note about how I choose recipes online. I tend to trust recipes that are from either publications that I believe test their recipes or food bloggers with a big web presence. From there, it's finding the recipes that have lots of positive comments. While a good rule for the internet is generally to never read the comments, the opposite is true for recipes. People will post their success with recipes as well as any changes they made or issues with the recipes. I'm skeptical of recipes on websites like food.com that don't have lots of good comments.)

 So off I went to Whole Foods. I got some brown basmati, some gorgeous (local!) Madras curry powder, and the other odds and ends I needed. But no lamb chunks. This is probably for the better, as it would have cost a million dollars, but it meant another stop. Committed to lamb curry at this point, I stopped at Loblaws and found something we've bought before, a 1kg bag of frozen New Zealand lamb bits. I just wanted to go home at this point, so frozen it was! But re-reading the recipe I realized that it actually called for lamb shoulder that you've butchered yourself into cubes. And honestly? I'd recommend you go that route. These chunks were clearly trimmed ends and were very uneven and fatty. I think a lamb shoulder would allow you to have much less fat and meatier pieces.

The lamb fiasco threw off my shopping groove though and I somehow forgot some other crucial ingredients: yoghurt and tomato puree. No matter though, as I have a generally well-stocked kitchen and am getting better about making substitutions. I used a combo of sour cream and buttermilk instead of the yoghurt and a can of Italian diced tomatoes that I pureed myself instead of the canned puree.

Despite all the substitutes, the recipe came together beautifully and it happily simmered until we were ready to eat. I thought the curry was delicious, but David prefers my mother's curry which has no dairy in it and is a bit thinner and juicier. And that would be my big comment too: there simply isn't enough liquid in this recipe and what blessed little there is evaporates as you simmer. I would add more water (or maybe chicken stock) and more tomato puree to thin it out a bit. Overall though? A delicious dinner which turned into really tasty leftovers.

Specific Product Recommendations:
(Part of what I want to do in this space is tell you about interesting recipes, what I think might improve them, but also brands and products that I really like and I think make a difference. Any views are my own because I have about 5 readers and no sponsors.)
Rice - part of my eating revolution involves fewer white grains (sob), so I'm trying to substitute brown where possible. And frankly, there's nothing special about the (white) basmati we make at home. Brown basmati actually tastes like something, it smells like something, and has texture to it. And if the rice is really just a vehicle for the curry? Why not go for something a bit healthier. Just make sure you take into account that brown rices takes much longer to cook. I like Lundberg Brown Basmati. It's pretty widely available, possibly in your organic section.
Naan - PC makes excellent Naan and it's easy to reheat. No whole wheat shenanigans here. I like the Garlic kind.