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Monday, July 30, 2007

Curry Leaves

The bug and I went to an Indian-food potluck last night at Courtney's house, and for the occasion I learned to make one of my favorite (New York) Indian restaurant dishes, Mangalorean chicken, a southern Indian coconut-milk curry. I first made it last week, sticking close to this recipe, which is, I think, from the L.A. Times. After a little tweaking, here's what I came up with:
Mangalorean chicken

For the potluck, I used half thighs and half breast meat, adding the latter with the coconut milk so it didn't overcook and dry out. If you're only making enough for two or three large servings, though, just use thighs.

1 (1-inch) piece of ginger, peeled
3 cloves garlic
1 medium-size onion, roughly chopped
About 2 teaspoons ghee
2 medium-size tomatoes, halved and grated, skins discarded
2 cinnamon sticks
1 tablespoon green or white cardamom pods
1 tablespoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed and cut into large chunks
1 small (5.6-ounce) can coconut milk
1 1/2 teaspoons mustard seeds (black or yellow)
4 or 5 dried red chiles, stems removed
About 20 fresh curry leaves

Put the ginger and garlic in a mini food processor and finely mince them. Add the onion and process until finely diced but not pureed. Heat a little bit of the ghee in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the onion mixture, tomatoes, cinnamon sticks, cardamom, cloves, cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, until somewhat thickened.

Add the chicken and simmer over medium heat, uncovered, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Add the coconut milk and continue to simmer for about 5 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through.

Put the remaining ghee, the mustard seeds, chiles, and curry leaves in a small skillet over high heat. Cook, stirring constantly and pressing down on the chiles, for about 3 minutes, until the seeds begin to pop out of the pan and the chiles are blackened in spots. Scrape the ghee mixture into the chicken and stir to combine. Cook for 3 minutes longer, then serve. This is a picture of my earlier attempt; the revised dish looks the same except the sauce is thicker and smoother.
I also made a tindora dish that I think worked pretty well. You could probably use sliced okra or zucchini or yellow squash instead of tindora. Did not take a picture, but the tindora was very pretty and colorful—green skin, turmeric-yellow coconut flakes, and flecks of red pepper.
Curried tindora

This is similar to a recipe on Mahanandi. Next time I'd add some slivered onions. Look here for many more ideas for using tindora. I got them at the enormous upscale Super H Mart grocery outside Atlanta. H Mart is like an Asian Whole Foods, but cheap. It has sample tables that would put Costco to shame, Asian fast food counters where you can get sushi or noodles or dumplings or whatever, all the usual snacks and sauces and noodles and Asian ingredients (there's a whole section of several dozen different kinds of fresh kimchee—H Mart is primarily Korean, I believe), beautifully stacked produce, fresh fish, and reasonably priced meat.

1 teaspoon ghee
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cloves garlic, sliced
About 1 pound tindora, trimmed and cut lengthwise into quarters
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Large pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon dried unsweetened coconut
Salt to taste

In a skillet, combine the ghee, mustard seeds, cumin, and garlic and cook over high heat, stirring constantly, for about 3 minutes, until the mustard seeds start to pop out of the pan. Add the tindora and a tablespoon of water and cook, stirring frequently, until the tindora is softened but still crisp, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle in the remaining ingredients, tossing and stirring to coat the tindora evenly, and cook for 1 minute. Serve hot or at room temperature.
And here's one of my favorite little sweet treats, and probably the easiest thing you'll ever make. Pretty much straight out of Yamuna Devi's Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. Some people said it reminded them of those Danish shortbread cookies that come in big round blue tins, or fudge, or real shortbread. They're buttery and toasty-nutty, and very delicate-textured.
Besan ladoo

3/4 cup ghee (see this post about how to make a large batch of ghee)
2 cups besan (chickpea flour; use the finest grind you can get)
2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons dried unsweetened coconut
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
3/4 cup light brown sugar (Devi suggests maple sugar as an option)

In a heavy skillet over low heat, combine the ghee, besan, walnuts, coconut, and nutmeg. Cook, stirring constantly, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture turns just a shade darker. Add the brown sugar and cook, stirring constantly, over low to medium-low heat, for about 5 minutes, until the mixture is the color of dark brown sugar. Be careful not to let the mixture burn, and keep stirring it from the bottom. Immediately scrape the mixture into a square baking pan and spread it evenly in the bottom so it's about 1/2 inch deep (this amount will half-fill a 9-inch square pan; just smush it into one side of the bottom of the pan), smoothing the top. Put in the refrigerator until firm, about 30 minutes, or let it cool and firm up at room temperature. Cut into tiny squares (a little goes a long way) in the pan, and lift them out carefully (they're a bit fragile). Keep refrigerated until an hour or so before serving time if the weather's hot.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Finished Wisp, and a Dumb Knitting Question

I finished the Wisp shawl thing from Knitty yesterday, and used about six hundred pins to wet block it on a cardboard sewing mat covered with some cloth and black plastic—satisfyingly, it dried in no time, so I could get on to the fun part: choosing buttons. I found some old shell buttons in my "vintage" button collection, but they seem a little too heavy still, so my mom is sending along some other options from the, er, mother lode of buttons. One group is apparently honey-colored antique plastic, which I think would look great.

I'm quite happy with my first lace attempt; I am especially happy that I had to use only one skein of Kidsilk Haze and even had a bit leftover—I did accidentally skip a row here or there, which probably helped. I didn't make eyelets in the button end of the rectangle—didn't see any point.

So here's a dumb question: How do you weave in ends so that they don't work their way out with wear? I take the yarn all different directions, and really try to get it woven in well, and stretch the material a bit to simulate how it stretches when the thing's worn, but I usually end up with little tufts. For example, on the Fetching fingerless gloves, of which I've made two pairs (yes, I just make whatever Cheryl Niamath tells me to; she puts me in mind of the architect turned fashion designer with like thirteen kids who was a runner-up on Project Runway), I get all sorts of ends coming out at the thumbs, even though I thought I was doing a really thorough weaving-in job. Does blocking help?

Monday, July 16, 2007

Tomato-Basil Jam

UPDATE 8/3/10: See the even better, less sweet, no-commercial-pectin version of this jam in my new book, Canning for a New Generation.
Tomato-Basil Jam

About 3 1/2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded, and diced
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 cup torn fresh basil leaves
4 cups sugar
1 (1.75-ounce) packet powdered pectin such as Sure-Jell

Sterilize 5 half-pint jars (in boiling water for at least 10 minutes). Simmer the tomatoes, covered, in a heavy 6-quart pot for 10 minutes. Measure 3 1/2 cups tomatoes and juices and return them to the pot. Add the lemon juice, zest, and basil. Combine 1/4 cup of the sugar with the pectin and stir it into the tomato mixture. Bring to a full rolling boil over high heat, stirring constantly. Immediately stir in the remaining sugar. Return to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down, then boil hard, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Skim off the foam with a metal spoon. Ladle hot into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace; adjust the lids and process in a boiling-water bath for 5 minutes. Makes 5 half-pint jars.

This jam is best on a toasted English muffin with cream cheese.

The lemon zest really helps brighten the flavor, but my mom's original recipe doesn't call for it. Hers uses less sugar—3 cups—and low-sugar pectin, which when I tried it yielded a pretty aggressively jellied jam; it's also processed longer, for 15 minutes, but according to a very similar recipe in So Easy to Preserve a jam with the sugar–lemon juice–tomato proportions above should need only 5 minutes.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Smoke Ring

Sometimes my mom writes on Sundays and asks what we're smoking. If that question comes up this weekend I'll tell her Mr. Chalmers smoked a brisket, but did it differently this time (thank you, America's Test Kitchen, for inspiring us to load ourselves into the car and go to Hull and get a full-sized specimen—both sections, not just the pretty corned-beef part—so we could try it). Smoked with hickory for about three hours, with his spicy-salty-garlicky rub, then wrapped in foil and roasted in the oven at 300 degrees for another two. I took the drippings, defatted them as best I could, and simmered them with some sherry vinegar and ketchup (somewhere I read that Texas barbecue sauce, when they use it, is just drippings, vinegar, and ketchup), and added the quarter cup of salsa leftover from my canning session. Good sauce, but of course the meat didn't need it at all. We didn't know quite where to separate the two parts of the brisket, and ended up with three, stacked:

I'd like to show you a detail of the smoke ring on this one hunk. It's a blurry picture, but can you see that gorgeous pink?

While that was working, I canned some Uncle Lloyd's Salsa made with the great tomatoes we got at the farm on Sorrow Patterson. (I'm obsessed with this place, been there three times in the last week. It and Your Dekalb Farmer's Market are really all I need to feel like I have the world at my fingertips, as they say in that hot, deprived city up north. Today Mr. Chalmers came too, mostly, I suspect, to meet Sam the dog. It was sprinkling. The two high schoolers minding the tomatoes seemed like the most content and happy people in Madison County to me today.) This is the salsa my family has been canning for years—the vegetables are charred before being chunkily pureed in the blender and simmered till thick. It's a bit sweet, and hot. I like to stir a little into my fresh salsa of chopped tomatoes, onions, lime zest and juice, cilantro, chiles, vinegar, and granulated garlic (I know, I know: granulated garlic? But it tastes so good and metallic here, and fresh just isn't the same!).

Uncle Lloyd's Salsa

I'm just reprinting this almost verbatim from what my mom sent me, because I'm lazy about retyping recipes. My late uncle Lloyd was a little nuts when it came to spicy foods: the hotter the better. After broiling the peppers, I took the seeds out of most of them, and the salsa's plenty hot for me. (Also, the finished salsa is, well, less seedy, and nicer than it sometimes can be if you have extra-seedy jalapeños.) And I pulled off and discarded most of the tomato skins after they were broiled, leaving only the charred black bits.

15 to 20 plum tomatoes (I did not use plum tomatoes, but Mr. Chalmers glanced, or blinked—Malcom Gladwell–style, he said, he's so funny!—at the regular-tomato selection I'd laid out and said it looked like the equivalent of this many Romas to him)
15 red jalapeños (I used green)
12 cloves garlic
3 onions, cut in half
1 1/2 cups chopped green pepper (I omitted these)
1/2 cup vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt

Spread all the vegetables in a large shallow pan and roast under high heat of the oven broiler. Turn the vegetables to roast evenly; some charring is necessary for best flavor. Cool to room temperature. Working in batches, chop the vegetables in a blender or food processor with 1/2 cup water, processing only until chunky. Put the vegetables in a large pot with the vinegar, sugar, and salt. Simmer over medium heat until thick, 20 to 30 minutes. Pour the salsa into hot pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace, wipe rims, and adjust the lids; process for 40 minutes in a boiling-water bath. This makes 3 pints plus a half-pint (I processed this for 15 minutes) a little leftover.
The other day I put up some tomato-basil jam, which tastes just like my parents' house in Viriginia in the summer when I was growing up. I'm going to rejigger the recipe a bit and if it works out I'll post it here. (The batch I made is great for my purposes, but it looks a little funny in the jars.)

I'll leave you with a picture of the bug I took a couple weeks ago, when it was much hotter than it was today. For an old house, the air conditioning in this place is pretty damn good, and she knows the best spot.

She's eating a rice cake, and that's Wagner to her left, waiting for crumbs.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Knitting Again

I'm knitting, if you can believe that. I abandoned the ridiculous Aran blanket I started back in October, and instead am doing Wisp, from the latest Knitty. Talk about pointless. It doesn't look like it'd keep one warm, or cool, or anything. It's just there. I'm doing it in Kidsilk Haze, sort of a taupe.

It's going pretty slowly; I've never used a lace yarn before, and it feels a little awkward and slippery. Still, it's nice to be knitting.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Best Lunch Ever

I took the bug down Sorrow Patterson Road near Colbert this afternoon (can you name a more Southern-sounding road?), following a sign on the main road for tomatoes and fresh corn, and we came to this sort of family farm at the end of a winding lane, where they had tables loaded up with sweet corn and tomatoes and crookneck squash underneath an enormous shade tree. The bug fell in love with a deep-red Golden Retriever named Sam. The tomatoes are the best I've had in years, as is the corn. I asked what variety the corn is, but of course I couldn't understand a word of the response other than "Jack" (maybe) and "bicolor" (which is obvious from the context anyway). A dozen ears and two pounds of tomatoes cost four dollars:

I put a big pot of water to boil as soon as we got home, then sat out in the backyard and shucked, and the bug carried one ear around trying to take bites of it. It was a fine lunch, and if you're wondering about the lack of meat, note that for breakfast I had leftover leg of lamb that we'd spit-roasted on Saturday:

I boned a whole leg, and we stuffed whole cloves of garlic, rosemary, and oregano inside, wrapped it up and tied it (I figured it was worth finally learning how to tie a roast the proper way, and it's actually really simple and I don't know why I'd neglected to learn that all these years), rubbed it with olive oil, salt, and more herbs, and rotisseried it for maybe four or five hours. It was great with a simple yogurt and cucumber sauce, pitas, and green beans sautéed with fried onions and garlic and jalapeños.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Wild Blackberries

After the bug was in bed one evening recently I went up the road to the blackberry bramble and got as many as I could before I realized it wasn't worth the effort. It was too hot, even at dusk, too thorny, and I got too many fire ant bites to justify another round of picking. I didn't get that many, but made a sort of tart with them anyway, like I did a year ago. I think this year the berries were more bitter ("toxic," Mr. Chalmers called them, not inaccurately), but I like blackberries so much it didn't matter to me.

A few days later, I picked several handfuls of plump, very sweet wild blackberries that were growing next to the front porch, and the bug and I sat right down in the yard and ate them all, two or three at a time.

Here she is, postblackberries. I didn't look much less messy myself.

Mr. Chalmers's newly retired mom came down from New York to visit for a week, and we somehow managed to convince her to move to Athens! We took her to see houses, we kept the a/c cranked up, we kept her away from people with thick Southern accents, we gave her wine with dinner . . . But of course the real hero is the bug. This is big, since we don't have any other family nearby. Fun for the kid, fun for us, fun for her.

Grandma's last full day here was spent in the ER with the bug, who had gotten her finger crushed in the hinge side of the front door. I'd set her down on the porch while I closed the door and pushed the dogs back inside, and didn't even notice she was sticking her hand in the door until it was too late. She lost her whole fingernail, and she may or may not grow another one. (In the latter case, says Mr. Chalmers, she'll just have to stay in rural Georgia.) She was unbelieveably brave through it all, even though she was in terrible pain for a good long while. I read her stories as her grandma drove us to the hospital, and the little sweetie was trying so hard to pay attention to the story and ignore how much her finger hurt. She was also very patient as they took X-ray after X-ray, taping her hand down each time. (By the fourth or fifth one, though, she'd had about enough.) And she did really well with the hours of waiting in small rooms full of things that aren't toys. We can't keep a bandage on her finger, so we're just trying to keep it clean and Neosporined.

For the Fourth of July, Mr. Chalmers smoked brisket, chicken legs and thighs, and tofu, and I made a couple vegetables and a very good blueberry pudding cake. I tried to make a sweet potato pone from the Ebony cookbook, but something went horribly wrong. Anybody know of a better pone recipe? It should be like a sweet potato pudding, right, like in The Yearling?

We also blew up a huge "kiddie" pool and stuck it in the front yard and filled it up with ice-cold water. The bug was fascinated by it until we plunked her in it and she realized the water was ice-cold. A little while ago, though, I dragged a lawn chair up to the edge of the pool, and rolled her (new!) stroller next to the chair, and we both sat and splashed our feet in the water and she liked it. I did too.