The Great Watermelon Challenge

So, I was in Trader Joe’s grocery shopping and I saw that they had these small watermelons for sale. I know that Sarah isn’t a big fan but even if she didn’t eat any I could probably eat one of these small ones. So, I bought it and put it in the fridge. When Sarah came home and saw the watermelon she challenged me.  “Make me like watermelon!  That is your mission!” she said.

OK. So now it was on. I had to come up with something. One night when Sarah said she wanted something light I went to work. I made soy and honey marinated chicken breast salad with red onions and watermelon. And for dessert, I made a watermelon granita with Limoncello on the side.

For the salad I made a raspberry vinaigrette in which to marinate the onions. For the vinaigrette:

1/2 cup raspberries (fresh or frozen)

1 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 tbsp rice wine vinegar

Olive oil

Juice of one lime

Salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients except olive oil in a blender or food processor. Gradually add the olive oil until it comes together to the desired consistency.

Slice one red onion into rings, place in a bowl and pour the vinaigrette over the onions. Allow to marinate for an hour or longer.

For the chicken marinade:

1/4 cup of canola oil

Juice of one lime

2 tbsp dark soy sauce

2 tbsp regular soy sauce

2 tbsp honey

1 inch of ginger root sliced

Salt and pepper

Stir ingredients together and add chicken breasts. Coat and marinate for an hour or so.

Shake the chicken of excess marinade and cook on the stove top on medium high heat. Cook 2-3 minutes on each side until the sugars in the marinade begin to brown. Transfer to a baking dish and finish in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Remove from oven, cool for five minutes and slice into strips on the bias.

Construct the salad by laying down a bed of arugula. Top with the marinated onions, cubes of watermelon, the chicken and some of the vinaigrette.

For the granita, add 3-4 cups of watermelon, juice of one lime and some pomegranate syrup to a blender. Blend until smooth and slowly add in 1/3 cup of simple syrup (1/3 cup of sugar dissolved in 1/3 of boiling water and cooled for at least 10 minutes). Strain through a strainer pressing the solids through. Pour into a baking dish and put in the freezer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Every half hour scrape and stir the granita until fully frozen. Serve in martini glasses with Limoncello served on the side in vodka or shot glasses.

Sarah was happy with the dishes. I was happy because I can add watermelon to a growing list of foods that Sarah will eat because of me.

Both dishes are gluten and dairy free.

The Gadget Wall: Pot Roast and Moroccan Chicken Stew in the Slow Cooker.

Certain things happen when you get married. Your parents cry. You learn way more than you ever wanted to know about ring sizes. You learn a lot about your relationship. You explore many ways of answering the question ‘So when are you having a baby?’ (We’ll have to get back to you on that, nebnose.) And at the end of it all, you’re left with lots of photos, lots of memories, and lots and lots of kitchen appliances.

This is probably even more true if you are known to be foodies. Joe and I met working at the late, great Lechters Housewares, received all sorts of coffee makers, flatware, and slow cookers, among other gifts, from our wonderful and generous friends and family. We love gadgets, and we both subscribe to Alton Brown’s Unitasker Theory: the only unitasker allowed in our kitchen is the fire extinguisher. (OK, and maybe that awesome stovetop coffeepot Paola brought us from Lebanon.)

Fortunately, the slow cooker is versatile. Stew? Sauce? A whole chicken? Check, check and check. Our thoughtful friends Peter and Cat gave us not only a spiffy slow cooker, but also The Slow Cooker Ready & Waiting Cookbook: 160 Sumptuous Meals that Cook Themselves by Rick Rodgers. Like many cookbooks organized around a gadget, this one pulls recipes from every corner of the globe and adapts them for American tastes. I’m generally skeptical of this approach, but after two really, really delicious meals, I have to admit that Rick knows what he’s doing.

Both recipes are deceptively simple. The recipes are long, and aimed at beginner cooks, with instructions like ‘turn on the slow cooker’– so I’ll summarize them here but add a few notes. My main criticism is that these recipes go too light on the seasonings– feel free to load up on your spices and aromatics. Also, he seems to be a fan of canned broths. I use them sometimes, but try to stick to fresh– the sodium levels in canned broth are ridiculous, and they tend to be full of additives. The pot roast recipe is gluten-free, if GF beer is used; the chicken stew is dairy free, and also GF if served with rice or quinoa instead of couscous. Read the rest of this entry »

Philly Bargain: The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College

This past Saturday Sarah and I went to the Restaurant School for dinner. She had a tough week and needed to be treated. We had often thought about checking this place out, with its $21 three-course prix fixe for the European Courtyard French Menu. For those who don’t know, the Restaurant School is a culinary institute between 42nd and 43rd on Walnut St. in West Philly [where: 19104]. In addition to the school itself, it has two restaurants, a bakery and a market with sandwiches. The restaurants and the stores are run by the students under supervision from instructors. There are some rough edges, but overall we had a good time and a good meal. Read the rest of this entry »

Eggs Moghlai

This is a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook An Invitation to Indian Cooking, the cookbook that inspired me to start this blog. The recipe is a fancy, rich dish- most Moghul dishes we in the US are exposed to are ‘royal’ recipes. There are two versions in this cookbook, one with chicken as the protein and one with hard-boiled eggs. Since eggs don’t need to be browned first and then simmered until they’re tender, the egg version is a whole lot quicker.

Read the rest of this entry »

Chana Masala with Bhaturas: Vegetarian Indian Goodness

My friend Diana is in town for a couple of days, and I promised her a vegetarian feast.  There’s nothing she loves more than Indian food, so I broke out my Madhur Jaffrey cookbook and made this chana masala for her and our friends Peter and Cat.  It turned out really well, and was less difficult than I expected.  It was spicy without being overpowering, and the lemon really gives it a fresh, tangy taste. 

(Incidentally, I realized about five minutes before my guests arrived that we were out of lemons– Joe used them all making lemon curd!  We only have small corner markets in my neighborhood, none of which carry produce, and I don’t have a car.  Fortunately, the neighborly folks at Ida Mae’s Bruncherie, reviewed here, spotted me a lemon!)

Chana masala, for those who haven’t tasted it, is a vegetarian dish of chickpeas simmered with onions, garlic, ginger, tomato puree and spices.  It’s topped with lemon juice, tomatoes and chopped onion and served with fried bread– in this case, bhaturas.  My friend LeftyProf gave me a real-deal recipe, from his best friend’s mom in Delhi, but when I raced home from work and started cooking, it emerged that we didn’t actually have all of the ingredients!  So I’m going to try that this weekend, and last night I made Madhur Jaffrey’s bhaturas instead.  Props to Peter for doing an excellent job deep frying these– I’m excited to have successfully produced another new (to me) Indian bread!  Read on for the recipes.

Read the rest of this entry »

Pappardelle with Fresh Vegetables and Chicken

Just a quick light dish that I whipped up last night. Sarah and I had both eaten late lunches  and weren’t particularly hungry. The base of the dish was some really good sprouted wheat pappardelle pasta from Trader Joe’s. I used an 8 oz. bag.

While this was boiling, I sauteed ripe Roma tomatoes (from the Headhouse Market) cut into quarters, some diced onion, two cloves of garlic, one diced small zucchini and salt and pepper. I threw in some diced chicken breast that I had browned earlier. To this I added extra virgin olive oil and some good balsamic vinegar. You don’t want to cook this for very long. If you do the tomatoes will get soft. Just heat the veggies and the chicken through and toss in the pasta. I use an old-fashioned technique here: instead of draining the pasta first, I just pick it up with tongs and add it directly to the saute pan. This allows a little pasta water (in all of its starchy goodness) to become part of the sauce. To the pasta, I added some fresh chopped basil and some grated Parmesan.

A quick note on the basil. This is some of the best basil that I have ever had. We bought it from our new friend Jennie at Weaver’s Way.  Unlike mega-mart basil, this has little bits and holes where insects and worms have taken small bites– in fact, an inchworm fell out of this bunch when I was washing it. My mother always used to say she didn’t trust produce that didn’t have some evidence of insect life. I didn’t understand that as a kid, but I do now. A healthy ecosystem includes insects and worms. Mass production uses pesticides that eliminate this insect life so you have prettier produce. But you also sacrifice some of the nutrients that provide healthfulness and flavor to the produce. We’ve bought this basil twice now and it has wowed us both times.

As for the pasta, it made for a quick and tasty meal.

This dish could be made gluten-free by just using some GF pasta. There are some very good ones out there right now. A dairy-free option here would just be eliminating the cheese. If you use good, flavorful veggies, it wouldn’t be necessary. A vegetarian option would be to substitute the chicken with some wild mushrooms. Shiitakes or Criminis would work well.

Digg!

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Orange Roughy in a Spicy Almond-Pecan Sauce

This is a cookbook recipe that ended up morphing into a very different dish!  We started out making “Fish in an Almond-Walnut Sauce” from The Complete Book of Mexican Cooking by Elizabeth Lambert Ortiz.  I chose this recipe because we have lots of fish and also some fresh tomatillos we needed to use, and the recipe called for both.  However, as we started to make it, it became clear that we didn’t have the exact ingredients we thought we had.  So we got creative with substitutions and made what turned out to be a really tasty and healthy dish.  (Also dairy-free and gluten-free.) Here are the ingredients we actually used:

Orange Roughy in a Spicy Almond-Pecan Sauce

2 orange roughy fillets

1 onion, chopped

1 cup white wine

about 8 fresh tomatillos

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 cup blanched almonds

1  cup pecans

1 tbsp sesame seeds

1 green chilli, chopped

1 chipotle pepper (canned), chopped

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

First, prepare the tomatillos (you can skip this step if you used canned): Heat olive oil in a pan. Put in quartered tomatillos. Add salt and the diced green chilli. Saute for a minute and reduce heat to med-low. Add a couple tablespoons of water. Cook on med-low for about a half hour.

Once they are cooked, strain them to separate the liquid from the fruit.  Heat the liquid in the pan with a cup of wine, the onion and garlic, and the salt and pepper.  Simmer for 15 minutes, then add the fish and cook until flaky.  Remove the fish to a covered serving dish.

Pour the liquid from the pan into a food processor and add all remaining ingredients (except the fish).  Blend until you have a smooth sauce.  Pour over the fish and serve.

It has a nutty, smoky taste that went really well with the orange roughy, and a little kick of heat at the end.   Serve this with some sort of bread so you can sop up the sauce.  Also, if you buy canned tomatillos, it doesn’t take long at all.  I’ll definitely make this again.  (Next time I might even buy the right ingredients so I can make the official recipe!)

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