Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Dessert in a skillet

Mmm, apples. We're off to a good start.

After a holiday potluck at work last week and an early celebration of Thanksgiving this weekend with Miguel's family, I feel more prepared, cooking-wise, for this Thursday with my family. Get this: I learned how to make gravy! I'm sure someone in my family already plans to take care of this step, as — somehow! — it's always been handled without my help in years past. But if needed in a pinch, I can toast up that flour and whisk in the drippings like a pro. At least, I feel as though I could after watching over the shoulder of Miguel's sister's mother-in-law, who gave her tutorial in Spanish. Another lesson: I now know the Spanish word for "lumps."

Juicy, sliced apples on a stove top? You bet!

There's no way you can go wrong with a flaky crust, right?

I'm also a little more wise about attempting slightly ambitious desserts for such a well-attended occasion. Let's just say it's a good thing that other people brought multiple pies and cakes and fluffy marshmallow concoctions. My tarte Tatin, though intended to be an effortlessly glamorous French take on a traditional apple pie, was not only under-caramelized but also mushy and even a tad green. I blame that one weirdly hued corner on an unripe Golden Delicious.

I'm tempted not to publish such things and save myself from further embarrassment. But I feel a little better being able to point out that it tasted fine — but probably not as good as the one Dorie Greenspan baked in Michele Norris' kitchen — and that one of Miguel's cousins said it was one of his favorites. I guess this is the inherent trouble with upside-down desserts. I think if I try this recipe again, I'll do the caramelizing first and wait until the sugar has become dark before adding in the apple layer.

Oh, my. Hey, the chocolate cake is looking good...

But that tart was only one of many desserts I'll make this week. I am undeterred. The only thing is, I have so many family/favorite/brand-new-favorite-blog recipes I want to cook up for Thanksgiving, I haven't even been able to decide yet what I'll be making. One of everything??

Friday, November 5, 2010

Ersatz but tasty

My knowledge of Indian cooking doesn't extend too far. I know that it's often heavily spiced and includes what I think of as relief dishes, things like raita and kheer that are cucumber-cooled or sweetly creamy.

It's this contrast that makes me love it, so I figured that's all I needed to know to wing it with Indian spices. I had on hand okra from a friend's garden and a sweet potato that had been lying in wait and I figured I could combine the spicy and sweet in one dish. I had no real plan but I didn't see much chance for failure in roasting vegetables with salt, pepper and some lively spices and serving them over slightly sweetened rice. Whatever the result, I'd eat it and enjoy it knowing that authenticity was not the aim.

And though it didn't end up being as spicy as, say, some curries I've had, a jalapeno (shared from a colleague's garden — I'm a pro at freeloading, it seems) did get the heat going. In fact, I'm typing with one hand right now so I can continue stuffing grapes into my mouth to cool it down. I'm including my recipe here because, hey, look! I made a recipe! And that's what blogs are for. But if you find yourself with random roastable vegetables, rice and garam masala, you'd do well to throw them together any old way without poring over these instructions because that's all I did in the first place.

Boy, reading over this, it occurs to me that I could rename this blog The Diffident Chef. Or how about Eeyore Cooks? Okay, the self-effacing ends here: get out your half teaspoons and don't dare to skip the anise stars — this recipe is perfection!

Really, it was quite good.

Roasted okra and sweet potatoes spiced at random

5 okra pods, cut into half-inch lengths

1 large sweet potato, cubed

olive oil



1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon cayenne

1 jalapeno pepper, diced and partially seeded

2 garlic cloves, diced

1 cup chicken broth

1/2 cup water

2 anise stars

1 bay leaf

1 cup rice

sprinkling of cinnamon

drizzle of honey

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and put in a foil-lined baking sheet. Collect the okra and sweet potato bits in a bowl and drizzle them with a quantity of olive oil appropriate for roasting. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and the spices and mix it all up with your hand. (Wash up quickly thereafter or you will be yellowed by turmeric.) Toss in the jalapeno and garlic. Take the preheated sheet from the oven and scatter the vegetables onto it. (The hot pan will start them cooking right away, making roasting faster.) Set a timer for about 20 minutes and turn the vegetables halfway through.

Meanwhile, combine the chicken broth, water, anise and bay leaf in a small pot and bring to a boil. When it gets going, add the rice and cook for 15 minutes. Near the end of the cooking time, remove the stars and leaf and stir in the cinnamon and honey. Ideally, what's in the oven and on the stove top will finish cooking at the same time, ready for you to pile it together onto a plate.