Posted by: emilyewelty | September 26, 2010

Expanding my palate

Pad Thai – page 198 – Thailand

Today as I was riding the bus home from the grocery store, I looked down into my bag and realized that almost ALL of the ingredients in tonight’s dish were things that I grew up NOT eating. Among these: rice noodles (great for a gluten-free dish), pork, shrimp, tofu and bean sprouts. All things that I did not grow up eating but have developed an appreciation for later in life.

I was a pretty picky eater as a child but my parents also had a policy – not a rule exactly – that we did not have private food and thus everyone was encouraged to eat whatever the family dish of the night was. However, an exception was made for me when we had spinach quiche which I inexplicably hated and was allowed to have a chicken potpie instead. I wonder now how much of our tastes as children (and then later in life as adults) are shaped by what we eat with our families. In any event, I can imagine that this was a dish I would have definitely opted out of as a child!

Pad thai is one of the sous chef’s favourite dishes and he was very much looking forward to this recipe so I felt incentivized to put extra care into its preparation as I suspected his expectations might be high. And, it was a good thing that I felt some drive because at one point in the preparation, I was very tempted to throw in the towel.

The culprit? Fish sauce.

Extending the Table insists that fish sauce is a complex taste that I will grow to enjoy as I use it more. I hope so. Because right now, whenever I add it to anything, the smell kind of makes me want to vomit. Everything was sizzling along nicely – onions, garlic, pork, tofu, shrimp, eggs – and then I had to add the spices including fish sauce and lemon juice. Ugh. I also felt particularly sorry for my housemates who had to smell the fish sauce and not have any of the reward of eating pad thai.

After some dramatic hand gestures and noises on my part, the fish sauce was properly blended. Needless to say, I did NOT add cilantro as the recipe indicated – cilantro and I do not mix and that just seemed a step too far for me.

In the end, all of the flavours combined nicely and the dish turned out well. A solid 3 out of 5 stars. However, fish sauce in my opinion, is a one star ingredient. It appears that there are only 3 more Extending the Table recipes that call for fish sauce and then it is over between me and fish sauce for good.  Strangely, one of the recipes that calls for fish sauce IS fish sauce. After I make that recipe, I will have a full cup of fish sauce available for use in other recipes…..oh, good.

Yes, it looks rather nice. Just be glad you didn't smell it.

Posted by: emilyewelty | September 20, 2010

Cars, Calculations, Community, Chicken and Couscous

Today is blog entry #100 for me…that seems crazy and almost impossible! Next week will be the one year anniversary of my Extending the Table experiment and I think I will try to post some highlights and low lights….

Today’s recipe:

Chicken Stew and Couscous from Algeria (page 175)

I have been doing alot of thinking lately about my lifestyle and the choices that the sous chef and I have made that have brought us to where we are today. While it would seem pretentious to claim that our lifestyles are vastly different than most other Americans, nonetheless, we don’t own a home (we live in a shared house with several other people) and we don’t own a car. I have been thinking about these choices lately and specifically if it is somehow irresponsible or immature for us to continue to live this way. Upon hearing these two facts, many people have often wondered aloud when we are going to “grow up” or “settle down”.  And now that another move is on the horizon – this time to New York City it seems like a good time to think consciously about our choices.

So today as I did my grocery shopping for house meal this evening, I thought about what it means for us to live without a car in relation to our food choices. I grew up in a household in suburban Michigan where shopping at large commerical supermarkets was the order of the day. Since we drove a car to and from the grocery store, it was possible to stock up on supplies and the trunk was the limit of what we could purchase. Here grocery shopping means calculating how many of our own cloth bags we need to carry, how much weight we can carry at one time and how many bags we can comfortably manage on the bus. On nights when we are in charge of house dinner (like tonight) we need to assume that since we are cooking for an additional 6-8 people, we need more bags or stronger arms or more trips. By planning a few days in advance, we were able to ask one house member to purchase the chicken and another house member to prepare the couscous for tonight’s meal.

So, today as I walked along, lugging two weighty cloth bags of produce, I felt content that, at least for now, living without a car is still the best option for us.

The recipe itself was very straightforward but required lots of chopping: chicken, onions, green beans, carrots, garlic, zucchini/courgettes and tomatoes; and lots of spices: cumin, basil, bay leaves, parsley, salt and pepper. Our house mate made couscous and we served the stew (more of a soup consistency) in bowls over the couscous. A solid three out of five stars.

I also decided to listen to some Algerian music while cooking tonight and chose an Algerian woman singer-songwriter: Mona Boutchebak. Good stuff.

A hearty meal for an autumn evening

Posted by: emilyewelty | September 19, 2010

Payesh and Parenthood

Payesh (spiced rice pudding)  India…..page 300

I made this pudding for house dinner last week. Payesh is the rice pudding that is typically served at Annaprashanna – a Hindu festival which marks the first time a baby eats solid food.

I am not parent and when I first thought about making this recipe – to be honest, the idea of making essentially a baby food kind of weirded me out. This is probably because I have suddenly become the age at which everyone begins to ask me when I plan on having children. (Note the use of the word “when” rather than “if” here….but I will get to that in a second…) Somehow the magic combination of being over thirty, married and straight means that baby questions abound. Sometimes I wonder if the people who are asking such questions have any idea how incredibly physically/psychologically/intellectually/emotionally demading a phd is.  This dynamic has gotten to the point that any time I want to make an announcement about anything in my life, as soon as I say the words “I have some good news” or “I have something to tell you all”, people feel free to jump in and ask if I am making a baby announcement. This is….not ok. And it really dampens any kind of good news that I might be sharing.

All of this is just to say, I feel ambivalent about parenthood. I am happy for those who choose to do it but I don’t think its obligatory for everyone. Some day I might want to. Or maybe not. And until I decide, it would be incredibly great if everyone around me didn’t presume to know how I feel about this topic….(one of my least favorite comments from many well-intentioned friends is “you might think that now but deep in your heart, you really do want kids”)

But I have decided to embrace my own ambivalence and, for the time being, embrace the fact that there are many ways to parent beyond being someone’s primary caregiver. I like to think that I am a pretty great aunt for the children of many dear friends and for my own new nephew (whom I am delighted to meet for the first time next week!) I like to think that my vocation of being a professor is a way to parent a large number of people in the world. I like to think that being a good youth director, a good neighbor and a good friend to children is a good way to exercise the parenting function.

And it was in this spirit that I made payesh the other night for my housemates. We had an extra bowl left over and we passed it around and all took a spoonful. It seemed like a beautiful little symbol of the ways in which we bear with one another, celebrate each other’s successes and carry each other’s burdens….and maybe in some small way, we also parent one another.

Payesh

Posted by: emilyewelty | September 19, 2010

In the spirit of the mandir….

This weekend has been London’s Open House which is an architecture festival all around London in which many buildings which are usually closed to the public are opened for viewing. We have seen some pretty fantastic stuff but my favorite has been the Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in North London – an enormous and ornate Hindu temple associated with the BAPS line of Hinduism.

The MandirSo, this lovely interfaith diversion had me already thinking about Indian food. I also just finished reading Margaret Atwood's The Year of the Flood so vegetarianism has been on my mind. Tonight's recipe? Chole (Chick-pea curry) ....page 171It never ceases to amaze me how dried chickpeas can become so full after just an evening's soak in a warm bowl of water! This dish was really wonderful - I would definitely make it again. It had a lightness to it that would have been lost if it had contained meat I think. (And it gave me the opportunity to use my beloved ghee!)Chole

Posted by: emilyewelty | September 19, 2010

Ghee-ks!

Murghi Dopiaza (Curried Chicken and Onions) India….page 225

It’s official. I think I am in love with ghee. As you faithful blog readers and those lucky few of you who have cooked with me recently know, I am extremely orthodox about the Extending the Table recipes. I do not add ingredients and I only delete them when they are deemed too spicy for my tasting audience. So – when the recipe for this curried chicken called for ghee, I went out and bought some.

Oh.my.goodness.

How did I ever cook Indian food without this? I am totally in love. I am joining the Ghee Club. This recipe got a solid four stars. It also made the kitchen smell wonderful as it calls for a blend of coriander, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.

Ghee-liciousFried onions on top!

Posted by: emilyewelty | September 19, 2010

Backlog on the blog

Tomates Vinaigrette (tomatoes with oil and vinegar dressing) France….page 109

This photo makes the dish look as though it had more of a yellow-cast to it than it did in real life...

Pretty much exactly what the title says….we added this as a side dish when the sous chef was making his famous and amazing homemade macaroni and cheese (the gluten free edition) the other night. Very simple but a nice fresh complement to the heaviness of the mac and cheese.

Laoo Dhal (Red Lentils with Zucchini)   India…page 157

My housemate and I made this together one night. It never fails to amaze me how, with proper cooking and enough turmeric, red lentils take on this delightful yellow color. This recipe also involved a tricky translation between British and American English. The recipe calls for zucchini which was no where to be found in any of the stores I checked in….which seemed strange considering the time of year. A helpful check with my British friends sent me back to the store in search of “courgettes”.  Lesson learned. This was a great recipe but I am a big fan of dal in any form so I am easy to please.

Zucchini Dal

A little too hot....

My housemate and I were so pleased with the progress of our dal that we decided to make chapatis as well at the last minute. This was, in retrospect, foolhardy. We were paying too much attention to the dal and the chapatis began to burn. Not the greatest chapatis ever but I don’t blame the recipe.

Chapatis – India…page 48

Salsa di Melanzane per Spagetti (eggplant sauce for spagetti) Italy page 194

Mateo and I made this AGES ago but I just found the photographs on my laptop today and realized I hadn’t posted them. I don’t usually like eggplant/aubergine very much even though I really want to be the sort of person who likes them. So, sneaking them into other foods is probably the way forward for me. This was a great recipe and I didn’t notice the eggplant at all….

Very hearty

Olia de Carne (Pot of Beef) Costa Rica….page 245

I made this for house dinner. It was good but not spectacular. The most interesting thing about the recipe was that it called for throwing in several entire uncut stalks of celery and an entire uncut onion. These were supposed to be pulled out later and discarded. At the time I thought this was surprising as Mennonites and Mennonite cookbooks are not typically big on throwing things out and letting anything go to waste. At tea time, I mentioned the recipe to my housemats who (good Mennonites that they are) urged me to not throw away the celery or onion but to serve it with house dinner. It made me feel like I really know my Mennonites.

The onion is lurking under the surface...

Posted by: emilyewelty | September 19, 2010

Cooking Couture

We are in the middle of London Fashion week here in the big city…and when I say “we”, I mean the fashionistas of London which sadly does not include me. Apparently they are not looking for wane, sallow PhD students for modeling opportunities this year.

Ah well….

I do gather a few fashion tidbits here and there – mostly from my browsing of the occasional Marie Claire magazine and my devotion to Project Runway so I am aware that leopard prints are very IN this year. My ever-fashion-forward sister was apparently a few months ahead of the trend and bought me this apron back in July!

Very fashion forward, right? I think these oven mitts add a touch of the avant-garde...Note my "vogue" reference....

Posted by: emilyewelty | September 17, 2010

Sweetness amid chaos

Baklava (Middle East) page 311

There is a story that I tell those around me every time I order baklava and it seems appropriate to share it here. In the fall of 2000, I was living in Israel/Palestine as a scholar-in-residence at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute. I was in the midst of a Watson fellowship studying the role of religion, dialogue and peacemaking and the Middle East was my first site. About a month into my time there, the second Palestinian intifada began – literally in my backyard as Tantur straddles the line between Israel and Palestine. It was a very uncertain time – one that I remember in bits and pieces rather than as one continuous flow. It was scary, interesting, and confusingly exciting all at the same time – for a person who had spent a great deal of time thinking about religion and conflict, suddenly it was occurring right in front of me. [I don’t usually offer book suggestions on this blog but for a really good discussion of the way in which conflict elicits multiple unexpected feelings, I suggest War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning by Chris Hedges.] At one point, a large event had been scheduled at Tantur but was cancelled because of the conflict which appeared to be intensifying. As a result, there were enormous pans of baklava in the kitchen and they needed to be eaten. The Palestinian staff were having increasing trouble reaching Tantur safely and were being sent home early one day. It was unclear from day to day whether they would be able to make it in or not. So, the residents of Tantur were told that we needed to eat the baklava before it went bad. For two days, I had delicious, gooey, sweet baklava for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It felt elicit or even dangerous to be eating something so decadent and sweet in the midst of a time which was brutal and scary.

All of this is just to say – I don’t eat baklava very often but when I do, it brings a rush of memories. And that seems appropriate – everything about baklava is complex – fragile golden layers of crisp dough, saturated layers of sticky honey and broken levels of nuts.

Making baklava using the Extending the Table recipe was a proposition that both made me feel nervous and excited. After talking about it for quite awhile, the sous chef and I finally decided that the time had come.

This was actually alot of fun but took up an entire evening. We crushed all of the walnuts, almonds and pistachios ourselves and layered this nut mixture into the phyllo dough with plenty of butter. Rather than using primarily honey, the recipe calls for making a syrup using water, sugar, lemon juice and just a bit of honey.

Constructing layer after layer of crushed nuts

This is basically exactly the kind of craft-like project which I love!

The sous chef grabs my camera and catches me in the act of baklava tasting...

Lovely finished product!

The baklava turned out beautifully and we couldn’t stop eating it, talking about it and sharing it with other people. This big pan made enough for house dinner, several desserts and sending a small Tupperware container of it to my in-laws on their visit to the UK. (I heard that the sous-chef had an unfortunate baklava incident during the course of the delivery so I am not sure that it actually arrived….on the bright side, the inside his laptop bag smells delightfully of baklava!)

This was one of the best recipes we have made in Extending the Table. I give it my very highest and most coveted five star rating! *****

Posted by: emilyewelty | September 8, 2010

Meat Manicure…

Carne Esmechada (Shredded Beef) Venezuela…..page 238

Question: How do you know when you are doing too much thinking and not enough manual labour?

Answer: When your fingers are actually sore the day after you shred a half kilo of beef for dinner the night before.

No, not a joke but just a report of the state of my hand and finger muscles after making this recipe. I thought it sounded fun initially – simmer the meat and then shred it into “fine shreds” then spice it and combine it with onion, green peppers and tomatoes. What I did not anticipate is that it is much more difficult to shred beef than I had expected. And, within a few minutes, I was asking sous-chef Mateo if he had considered how much fun it would be if we shredded beef TOGETHER? He initally did not seem like he thought it would be fun at all but I think when he saw my pitiful look, he decided that what would be even less fun would be hearing me complain about shredding beef.

Demonstrating my shredding techniqueThe other enlightening thing that I learned in the midst of this recipe was that my sous chef doesn't actually like beef very much! I must admit that this was news to me - I thought he was a big beef fan. Nope. So, like in so many other ways that we defy gender stereotypes, it appears that I am the real carnivore between the two of us.I wondered if his disinterest in beef was just a product of having to shred half a kilo with me, so, like the good social scientist that I am, I worked beef into the conversation a few days later. His response was very consistent - he really doesn't like beef that much. Good to know. The shredding was all worth it (sort of)

Posted by: emilyewelty | September 7, 2010

Neither fried nor clotted….

Pritong Gulay (Vegetable Stir-fry) Philippines….page 182

I haven’t been doing very much cooking recently. I just feel generally stressed out by the PhD project and by the time that dinner rolls around, it just seems easier to either go out or heat up something pre-made. However, I still really want to complete this project and learning how to cook interesting international dishes has been enlightening.

Tonight the sous chef and I decided we needed to do some Extending of the Table. We have been on holiday in the southwest part of the UK for four days and during that time, our diet largely consisted of English breakfasts at a bed and breakfast every morning (for those of you who have not experienced a proper English breakfast, just imagine a heart attack on a plate: fried sausage, fried bacon, fried tomato, fried mushrooms, bake beans and fried bread – not toast – fried bread. Mateo finds English breakfasts comforting. I find them to be something halfway between alarmingly delicious and disgusting depending on my mood. But I digress…). Since we were in Devon and Cornwall which are renowned for their dairy products, we also had proper cream teas every day (again, for the non-English readers among you: scones, jam, tea and lots of fresh clotted cream). And, since we were near the ocean, we also had fried fish and chips (french fries) every day. Very healthy – fried and clotted were the prevailing culinary themes…

So, tonight we had a pretty low bar for success in our own kitchen – as long as this meal did not involve extensive frying or clotted cream, we would be happy. This recipe is very easy – doesn’t take much time – just stir frying (ok, so technically we were frying again…) pork, onions, garlic, tomatoes, green pepper and seasonal vegetables (we chose butternut squash and carrots) in sunflower oil and a bit of fish sauce. I will save my very strong feelings about fish sauce for a later blog as it is a regular character in Extending the Table recipes and I do not have an amicable relationship with it.

All in all, it was nice – nothing too fancy or exciting but a solid, comfort food that wasn’t very taxing to make.

Seems strange to be eating vegetables which are not fried potatoes!

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