GRILL, BABY, GRILL

Instead of some long-winded post about Memorial Day grilling, the siren call of summer in the near-distance, the fact that I have only one week of school left, etc., I’m just going to let Jill’s photographs speak for themselves.

Steak + anchovy-garlic butter.

Grilled broccoli + lime-honey butter.

You may not know it yet, but compound butters are your friend.  Mix them up, roll them in a sheet of waxed paper, and keep the log in the freezer for when you need a little hit of flavor and fancy.  That simple, with practically endless permutations.

Just do it.  You’ll be glad you did.

 

ANCHOVY GARLIC BUTTER

adapted from Epicurious

I always make a whole stick’s worth of this stuff and keep it in the freezer, because it’s fabulous on any kind of grilled meat, especially steak or salmon. If you like, though, you can easily cut this recipe in half.

ingredients:

1 stick good-quality unsalted butter
¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T anchovy paste
juice & zest of 1 lemon
freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mix all ingredients with a spoon until combined.  Use to top grilled meats and vegetables or toss into pasta.

LIME HONEY BUTTER

We grilled broccoli for the first time because of this recipe in Food & Wine, and I can promise you that we will be grilling it all summer—the stems retained their snap, while the florets charred deliciously in places—even better than roasted broccoli (a previous favorite), with the bonus of not having to turn on the oven!

To grill the broccoli, just trim the stems a little and cut it into large “branches.”  Drizzle with olive oil before grilling over medium-high heat for 8-10 minutes, then toss with the lime-honey butter while still warm, and top with queso fresco or feta.

This butter would also be killer with grilled corn or fajitas.  Feel free to ramp up the Tabasco level as you see fit!

ingredients:

1 stick good-quality unsalted butter
1 T chipotle Tabasco*
1 ½ tsp. honey
juice & zest of 1 big lime
pinch of salt

Mix the ingredients together with a spoon until combined.  If making ahead, store in the refrigerator or freezer before using.

*We only had regular Tabasco on hand, so I used ½ tsp. of that and added a ½ tsp. of the sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo.

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SAAG PANEER

My little sister got married this weekend.


Of course, Varsha isn’t technically my sister—technically, she’s not related to me at all.  But technically is not how the community I grew up in works.  Technically isn’t even part of the vocabulary.

I grew up surrounded by an incredibly tight network of “uncles” and “aunties” who, like my parents, emigrated from India in the late sixties and early seventies and somehow wound up in Memphis, Tennessee.  Though they did not know each other beforehand, are not even from the same region of India, do not necessarily speak each other’s native languages or share family background, are from different castes and, in some cases, different religions, our parents raised us together, a makeshift village.

As a child, my “real” family—all in India—was distant, strange, unfamiliar; I have only visited there three times in my entire life.  To me, the people whom I felt connected to, unconditionally loved by, and stuck with, for better or worse, were the people my parents had chosen, the people whose houses I could ride my bike to, in whose upstairs rooms I played “Taboo” and watched, regrettably, The Shining at a very tender age.   They call me “Nishtie” and have known me since birth.

Part of what it means to be a family is to be a witness to the particular way someone grew up, someone who shares that particular little pocket of time, place, and circumstance, who knows the inside jokes, shares face time in vacation photos, and remembers the accidents, the sadness, the difficulty, the tradition, and the joy.  So I say that these people, though we are not bound by one drop of blood or any kind of relatedness that would hold up in court, are my family.

This weekend, I was joyfully present as Varsha, whom I’ve known since she was born, married her love of nine years, Devon.  I wrapped myself up in four different saris, caught up with folks I hadn’t seen in years, ate plates of fabulous Indian food, cried, cracked up as the adorable bride and groom surprised us all with a choreographed dance to Taylor Swift’s “Our Song,” and had the pleasure of co-emceeing the reception with the groom’s brother.

Indian weddings, in case you’ve never been, are vibrantly colorful, richly tradition-filled, elaborate, generous affairs, with events that stretch over the course of several days.  This one was no exception, but for me it was also so much more—an opportunity to feel and express my gratitude at being part of this incredible community.

To have memories of someone at age three or four, calling you “Nidda” and saying “shwimp” instead of “shrimp,” to have built elaborate slumber party tents with her, watched her fight off awful childhood migraines but win chess tournaments anyway, then notice suddenly that she’s grow into an incredibly beautiful, kind, and hard-working woman, and one night to get up and dance in celebration on the night of her wedding to a wonderful guy—there really aren’t any words to describe how that feels.

So, this one is for Varshie, with congratulations and so much joy.  I love you, little sister.

SAAG PANEER RECIPE

My mom made the saag paneer for Varsha & Devon’s engagement party, and Varsha knew immediately that my mom had been the one who made it.  This is her recipe, with a few adjustments from me.

I usually make a huge batch, so I cut the measurements down here to be more manageable.  That said, this recipe doubles (or triples!) easily and freezes very well.  You can also make the paneer ahead of time and store it separately in the fridge or freezer.

Surprised to see broccoli used here?  It adds creaminess and body to the dish without adding fat, in the form of even more butter or cream, which is often what makes restaurant saag taste so good.  When reducing or increasing this recipe, just keep this ratio in mind—3:1:1 :: spinach : broccoli : greens

You can certainly use fresh spinach for the saag, but I find it more cost-efficient and less time-consuming to use good quality frozen instead.


for the saag:

1 stick butter
1 large onion, roughly chopped
¼ cup minced garlic
¼ cup minced fresh ginger
3 packages frozen spinach
1 packages frozen chopped broccoli
1 package frozen mustard/turnip greens, swiss chard, or kale*
2 T corn flour
1 ½ T ground jeera (cumin)
1 ½ T ground dhania (coriander)
½ -1 tsp. lal mirch (cayenne)
1 T salt
1 cup paneer, cubed

Thaw the frozen greens in the fridge for a couple of hours, or in the kitchen sink for just an hour if rushed.  When ready, in a heavy bottomed pot, melt the butter and cook the onion, garlic, & ginger until translucent.  Add the thawed greens and a bit of water, if necessary, cover and cook for a half-hour or until the greens are soft, stirring occasionally.

Remove the greens from the heat and stir in the corn flour.  Blend everything in the pot using a stick blender, or let the mixture cool and then combine in a conventional blender or food processor.  Return the greens to the pot and add the spices, stirring well.  (At this point, you can also add a bit more butter, if you’re feeling decadent).

Cook for another 25-30 minutes, or until the saag pulls away from the sides of the pot.  Taste and check for salt, then stir in the paneer and let it warm up before serving.

*I have a hard time finding frozen greens, so I usually buy 2 bunches of fresh greens, wash them, and wilt them separately.

for the paneer:

1 gallon whole milk

lemon or lime juice (amount needed varies, be prepared with at least ¼ cup)

Line a colander with cheesecloth and place it in the sink.  In a large pot, bring the milk to a boil over medium heat.  Watch the milk because it will seem to do nothing for almost fifteen minutes, and then all of a sudden it will be close to boiling over.  When it gets to that point, remove the pot of milk from the heat.

Begin adding the citrus juice a few tablespoons at a time, stirring vigorously to distribute.  Continue to patiently add the juice until you see curds forming.  Once the curds have formed, pour the entire contents of the pot through the cheesecloth-lined colander.  (Note: you can save the liquid—the whey—and use it in place of water in baked goods).

Using gloves (the curds will be very hot!), lift the cheesecloth out onto a sturdy cutting board.  Place the cutting board back into the sink, then weigh it down using the pot you just cooked the milk in, filling it with water, which will also help with cleaning later.

For crumbled cheese, let the paneer sit at least an hour.  For sturdier paneer, transfer the pressed paneer to the fridge overnight, making sure it’s well covered with cheesecloth or damp paper towels.

Cube the paneer and brown it, either in a pan with oil or on a foil-lined, greased baking sheet under a low broiler (turn the pieces halfway through browning, which will only take about 10 minutes total).  Once browned, paneer will keep in the fridge for a week or in the freezer for a few months.

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A CHEESECAKE FOR VEENA

I won’t get to see my mom for Mother’s Day today, since we’re in different states; happily, I will get to see her in just a few days when I fly home to attend a wedding.  For today, I figured since my mom’s been mothering me for nearly thirty years, I would like to offer up:

Thirty Things About My Mother

1)    She was so glamorous.  No wonder she earned such big tips in the years she worked as a bartender.

2)    (She looks really good in red.)

3)   She has two Masters degrees.  She earned the first in India, but American universities wouldn’t, at that time, honor foreign graduate degrees.  So when she came here she got another one.  Oh, and a few years ago, for her job, she took more graduate-level classes–for credit.  No biggie.


4)    She doesn’t want me to send her flowers, contrary to what all of the Mothers’ Day ads and grocery store displays suggest.  An obsessive gardener, my mom has no patience for store bought, greenhouse-grown blooms.  She’s much more concerned about the flowers in the ground in her front and back yards.  When I was a kid, it was my job to go outside at dusk and coax her to come inside after having spent an entire Saturday digging, weeding, transplanting, watering, and mulching.

5)     She never once told me “I’ll tell you when you’re older” or “You’re too young to understand.”  Whenever I asked a question—no matter what its nature, or how busy she was—she would find away to answer me.

6)    She has this weird thing for Cool Whip.  My dad used to make special fun of her, teasing her for eating “foam.”  Since my mom is on the same discount grocery card account as me and Jill, we will occasionally get a targeted coupon for the stuff; I send it to mom in the mail to support her little habit.

7)    She married my dad after meeting him just twice.  In their wedding pictures, my mom looks guarded and my dad looks scared.  They both look crazy-young (twenty & twenty-five, respectively) and so beautiful.

8)    She left little love notes in my lunchbox for years, which I occasionally got made of for but inwardly cherished.  Would that I had saved a few for posterity.


9)    She has simply atrocious handwriting.  This made it quite convenient to learn how to forge her signature.

10)    She loves: pistachio ice cream, peanut butter, the aforementioned Cool Whip, tuberoses, the “f” word, Mexican food, foreign films, anything pickled, sour candy, well-written books in which very little happens, and Jon Stewart.

11)    She hates: goat cheese, Christmas card newsletters, the smell of scrambled eggs, fake politeness, Newt Gingrich, last-minute plans, people who do not vote, being called a “widow.”

12)    She has mad baby skills.  I have never, ever, ever seen a baby who wouldn’t go to her, smile at her, be soothed by her, play with her, etc.  The tiny ones can sense her thirty-plus years of experience in early childhood education, I think; at the very least, they know they are safe with her.

13)    She curses like a sailor.  Seriously, the woman has a fouler mouth than I do.  I think it’s hilarious, but I like to pretend to be scandalized by it.


14)    She loves classic American rock.  When my parents first came here, the only entertainment they could afford was a radio, so she fell in love with the music of the 60s and 70s, and passed that love on to me.  She’s the reason that Jill calls me the “jukebox,” because I can sing along to even the most obscure song on the oldies station.


15)    She was a tiger mom before it was fashionable—not the scary, chain-you-to-the-piano kind, but the strict, you-will-take-responsibility-or-else kind of mom.  She did not let me do everything I wanted to do.  She did not reward me for good grades, because good grades were expected.  She did not try to be my friend.  She tried, and succeeded, in being a relentlessly consistent parent whom I respect, feared a little, and still do my best to honor.

16)    She is deadly funny.  It’s when she isn’t even trying, of course, that she’ll deadpan or make some kind of sarcastic remark in passing and I snort with laughter.

17)    She’s not afraid to tell it like it is.  I learned, at some point, that this means one should be careful when asking for her opinion—“Does this outfit look okay?” for example.  Veena isn’t one to tell you what you want to hear.  I love that about her.

18)    She is naturally generous.  From her, I learned that you always send people home with leftovers, you make a double batch of an easily freezable food and drop it off at the house of a friend, just because.  You send birthday and condolence and congratulations cards in the mail.  At the holidays, you give gift cards to the men who mow the lawn, leave trays of cookies for the people who pick up your trash.  You always have time to make a pot of tea for a visiting friend.

19)    She can make anything taste good, and distinctively hers.  I’ve never eaten anything she’s made that wasn’t absolutely delicious.  She doesn’t use any recipes, and she taught herself to cook.

20)    She cares not a whit for professional sports, but she often sat with my dad in the den, crocheting while he cheered his teams on.

21)    She spoiled my dad.  His favorite foods were almost all incredibly high maintenance—complicated pickles, fried snacks, meticulously brewed tea—and she indulged him in all of it.  I miss him, of course, but almost miss them together more.

22)    She is loved by all of my friends.  I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard “Your mom is so awesome” after someone meets her for the first time.

23)    She is organized to a fault.  The woman writes more lists, files more files, color-codes more folders and types up more plans than anyone I know.

24)     She is brave.  To have me, she faced miscarriages and the heartache of infertility.  When my dad lost his job in high school, she managed to carry our family without losing her mind and while doing her utmost to preserve our quality of life.  Since we lost my dad, she has shown more courage and strength than I knew she had—and I knew she had a lot.  I am amazed by and so proud of her.

25)    She was, she tells me, giggly and chatty as a kid.  I find this very difficult to believe.

26)    She’s like an elephant, with reels and snarls of various personal and intellectual trivia: the scientific names of various animals, the names of almost any flowering plant you can point to, various prayers and invocations of half-a-dozen religious traditions, political trivia, pieces of Indian folk wisdom, details about a family vacation we took a fifteen years ago.

27)    She has a crazy-accurate sixth sense.  If she doesn’t get a good feeling about someone she meets, that bad feeling always proves to be well-founded (I learned this the hard way as a teenager).

28)    She made me listen to “Sound Money” on NPR as a kid, because she wanted me to be financially literate.  She signed me up for ice skating lessons, because they were on Saturday morning and that way, I’d never ask to watch Saturday morning cartoons.

29)    She speaks four languages (Hindi, Punjabi, English, & Urdu).

30)    She is going to be the absolute best grandmother in the whole wide world.  I cannot wait to watch that happen.

Happy Mother’s Day, Amma.  I made you a cheesecake.

CHEESECAKE WITH MINTED BLACKBERRIES
barely adapted from Dan Barber, as published in Gourmet

The cheesecake pictured here was made in my sweet little 6-inch spring form pan; I made the same amount of crust called for in the original recipe, but cut the recipe for filling: 2 packages cream cheese, ½ cup sugar, 2 eggs, ¼ cup half-and-half with a 2 tablespoons removed, 1 ½ T flour, & ½ tsp. vanilla.

My mom prefers a very classic cheesecake recipe, which this is—creamy, not too sweet, dense.  If you like a fluffier cake or one with more tang, substitute in fresh ricotta for some of the cream cheese.

If blackberries aren’t your thing, you can serve this cheesecake with all kinds of fresh summer fruit: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, mango, etc.

for the crust:

6 T unsalted butter, softened
½ cup packed light brown sugar
¾ cup all-purpose or spelt flour
½ cup sliced almonds, finely chopped

oven: 350ºF with a rack placed in the middle

Line a 9-inch square baking pan with two sheets foil, leaving generous overhang on all sides.  Lightly butter the foil.  Alternately, if using a spring form pan, butter the bottom and sides.

Beat the butter and brown sugar at medium speed, until light at fluffy.  Reduce speed and add the flour and almonds, mixing until combined and the dough clumps together.

Press the crust onto the bottom of baking ban (if using a spring form pan, press up along the edges as well).

Bake until the crust darkens a shade and begins to shrink, 20-30 minutes.  Cool crust completely in the pan on a wire rack.

for the filling:

3 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, softened
2/3 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
¼ cup half and half
2 T all-purpose flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract (almond extract is also nice)

oven: reduce to 325ºF.

Beat together the cream cheese, sugar, and flour at medium speed until smooth.  Reduce the speed to low and add half and half, then the eggs one at a time, then finally the vanilla.

Pour the filling into the cooled crust, then place in a water bath and bake until nearly set (a tiny bit of wobble in the center is okay).  This will take between 40-45 minutes.  Cool the cheesecake on room temperature for several hours, then chill, uncovered, in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

If you used the square pan, lift the cheesecake out using the foil overhang, then cut into squares.  If you used a spring form pan, run a knife along the edge of the cheesecake before removing the spring form side and slicing.

The cheesecake will keep in the fridge, loosely covered after being fully cooled, for three days.

for the minted blackberries:

2 cups fresh blackberries, rinsed
1 T sugar
1 T mint, finely chopped
finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Combine all ingredients and leave at room temp for 30 minutes.  When ready to serve, drain blackberries with a slotted spoon and place atop cheesecake.  You can also prepare the blackberries ahead of time and keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a few hours.

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GUEST POST: HOMEMADE SRIRACHA

So excited to share this post with y’all–Greg is a dear friend, and I’m addicted to his homemade sriracha hot sauce.  We haven’t used the bottled stuff in weeks!  Even better–I watched him make the stuff in my own kitchen, so I can attest that it’s ridiculously, wonderfully simple–Nishta 

I’m not sure where to start this story. You might tell me I should start at the beginning, but there are a couple of different starts, on a couple of threads, that meet up far down the line…..

One of those threads starts many years ago with an article in a major NYC perdiodical (Times ?, Post ?, Magazine ?).  The title used the expression “Homemade Rooster”.  There were a few cross posts about the article, and I saved a link for future reference, knowing that someday I’d use that recipe.

Another thread starts just over a year ago and can be summarized with the word : “yarden.”  I come from a long line of men who hate to do yardwork. When the time came for me to grow up and buy a home, I sought out a condo (no yard, no lawnmower, no edging). It seemed like a good plan. What I didn’t plan on was falling in love with a woman with a green thumb, a woman who would see my distaste for regular lawnmowing and make the following proposal : “Let’s get rid of all the grass and replace it with beds.”  Thus, the entire yard became a garden.  Yard + garden = yarden.

The transformation started in March of 2011 and by April we were enjoying fresh tomatoes, mourning the squashes that were lost to pests, and watching pink eyed peas outgrow weeds.  We had a few crops that we struggled to make use of. What do you do with four small eggplant? What do you do with two jalapeños? Well…in my case, I could wait a few days and have a couple more jalapeños…and a few corno di toros…and some serranos…enough for me to pull out that old rooster sauce recipe and give it a try.

Now, if you have spent any real amount of time in your kitchen, you’ve had an experience where something turned out to be so much easier and so much better than you expected that you wondered why you’d not made it long before. This is one of those recipes. I was blown away by how fresh and flavorful that first batch was. I started finding new pairings and uses for it. All too soon, I was out and knew the yarden would not be able to keep up with demand. Also, I would need to refine the recipe from “whatever peppers are harvested from the yard” to something reliable and reproduceable.

We all know that there are a lot of spicy sauces out there. There are times when you want Tabasco, times where your prefer Texas Pete’s and other times when anything less than Cholula won’t do. The differences between the many sauces isn’t just in their heat, it is in the other characters and favors that they bring…the vinegariness of Tabasco, the earthiness of Cholula, and the depth of Huy Fong’s sriracha (aka Rooster Sauce). In the case of the recipe that follows, there is a fresh, fruity pop. I love the rooster, but I won’t be buying any off of the shelf for a very very long time.

 HOMEMADE SRIRACHA

ingredients:

½ pound fresh chilies, coarsely chopped

-Naturally, you can use any kind of chili you want. I like Fresnos. I recommend Fresnos. Bright, fruity, spicy but not too spicy. You could go with habaneros, but that would be madness.

4 garlic cloves

-Four, eight, whatever

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup distilled white vinegar

2 tablespoons sugar

 

Throw everything into a saucepan, bring to a boil, return to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. The idea is just to get everything cooked and softened.  Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

Transfer the ingredients to a blender or food processor and blend for about 5 minutes.

This mixture should yield about a pint of bright orange goodness–after two weeks in the refrigerator, there might be some separation, but it will stir back together (and you’ll have consumed it by then anyway).

  

Greg Lopp is a self described foodie, code poet, philosopher, and ultimate frisbee player.  He’s also the kind of guy who brings great beer to a party and stays late to help you clean up, without being asked.  I named some brownies after him once.  He and his wife Sharon, their three cats, and their yarden live here in Houston.

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