Nihari

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I had nihari for the first time at our one local Pakistani restaurant, which is pretty hit or miss. I don’t know why we go there other than it’s the one local Pakistani restaurant. My thought: this is pot roast. Despite the lukewarm first impression, it says something about my life now that when I think comfort food I think nihari. The restaurant version didn’t do this dish justice; done well, it is warm, flavorful, and comforting. Just standing in the fragrant kitchen while it cooked made me feel peaceful. This is officially a Sunday dinner.

Nihari

1 lb stew beef
salt & pepper
1/2 c yogurt
1 onion, sliced
2 tbsp ghee or oil
1 stick cinnamon
2 cardamoms
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, grated
2 tbsp fennel seeds, toasted and ground
1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tsp cayenne
1/2 tsp tumeric
generous pinch nutmeg
2 bay leaves
(secret non-authentic ingredient alert!) 2 dried New Mexico chilis
2-3 c water
2 tbsp cornstarch
Garnish: cilantro or parsley, thinly sliced ginger, slices of lime

Season beef with salt and pepper, and marinate in yogurt for an hour or two.

Heat oil or ghee, add cinnamon, cardamom, and onions. Fry until onions are translucent. Add garlic, ginger, and ground spices (fennel, garam masala, cayenne, tumeric, and nutmeg) and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Add bay leafs, dried chilies, and water. Simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until meat is very tender. When beef is ready, stir cornstarch into a little water and add to pot. Stir until sauce is thickened. Fish out the chilis and cinnamon stick.

Serve, garnished, with warm naan or roti.

Side note: Homemade roti! Homemade roti! I get so excited when any homemade bread comes out nice, especially when I don’t have the right flour and I’m winging it.

Rosy Thumbprint Cookies

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For the longest day of summer we needed a little treat. These adorable, sunny little cookies were just the thing.

Rosy Thumbprint Cookies

We started off with this recipe from Simply Recipes – a buttery little shortbread with a dot of jam.

Instead of the teaspoon of vanilla, add a teaspoon and a half of rosewater. I used apricot jam, but any kind would lovely.

I didn’t work alone; I had a little kitchen imp for help.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Cashew Pesto

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These days on Fridays I love to come home from work, relax, and cook an easy, fresh, summery dinner for myself and Zoeya. Shan closes the restaurant on Friday, so I don’t worry about him turning his nose up at a grazing menu heavy on veggies and without an obvious entree (which, incidentally, is my favorite way to eat). This soup was simple and delightful, with a dollop of flavorful pesto made from fresh basil from my herb garden. You can make this with whatever nuts you have, but the cashews worked really nicely. They are similar in texture to pine nuts, and cheaper.

The soup was part of our Friday spread…

…to which Zoeya invited her baby…

…and then slurped up her bowl of soup, telling Mommy it was delicious. The best compliment is having your food approved by a picky 2.5 year old.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup with Cashew Pesto

makes four bowls, can easily be doubled

For the soup
3 red peppers
2 shallots, sliced
2 cloves garlic, sliced
salt & pepper
1 tbsp butter
2 cups chicken broth

Roast the red peppers at 475 in the oven, straight on the rack. Turn once and roast until they are charred. Move to a glass bowl and cover with saran wrap and let them steam and cool for a little bit. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat butter on medium high (not too high or it will burn), and cook the shallots and garlic, salt and pepper. When shallots are translucent, add chicken broth and bring to a simmer.

When the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel off the charred skin, scrape out the seeds, and slice. Transfer peppers and the broth, shallots, and garlic to a blender and puree. Return to saucepan and warm through.

For the pesto
1/2 c cashews
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 c basil leaves (loosely packed), roughly chopped
1/4 c olive oil
generous spritz lemon juice
salt & pepper

In a food processor, pulse cashews and garlic a few time. Add basil, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Pulse a few times to a chunky paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.

Serve soup steaming, spoon a little pesto into the center, and enjoy.

Vidalia Onion Marmalade

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I cook food from all over the place, but sometimes I just want to make something nice and homey and southern. Vidalia onions are naturally sweet, and sweeten the more you cook them. This could be a faulty memory, but they remind me of my grandmother because she always had some hanging in a basket in her laundry room. This is a slow-cooked, sweet and savory marmalade that would be delicious on grilled meat, a chicken or cheese sandwich, or just spread over a slice of bread.

Vidalia Onion Marmalade

3 vidalia onions, sliced medium (not too thin)
2 cloves garlic
salt & pepper
2 tbsp butter
4 allspice berries
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp molasses

Heat butter on medium heat and add allspice berries, onions, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for, oh, forever. At least half an hour, probably closer to 45 min. Take care not to let the mixture burn. If you need to add a small splash of water somewhere along the way, that’s fine. Cook until the onions are golden. Mix sugar and molasses, and stir into the onions. Remove from heat and let cool. Store in an airtight container.

Go-To Chili

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I love fresh tomatoes…fresh corn….rehydrating dried beans to their perfect constitution…who doesn’t? Unfortunately there are those days where none of that is going to cut it. Come on, I have a job, it’s a Monday and I got home late with 30 min or less to put dinner on the table. Cans! Cans to the rescue! This chili might not win any competitions, but it’ll make a solid weeknight dinner.

This is one of those “recipes” (I use the term loosely) that I can usually make with just stuff from the pantry, and there are several elements that are flexible depending on what I have on hand, so I’ll give you some options. The key, though, are the smoky, spicy chipotle peppers in adobe sauce. If I don’t have those I may as well make a bagel.

Go-To Chili

olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, chopped
ground spices. Your options are paprika, cinnamon, cumin, garam masala (in Tex-Mex food? Yes!), or a chili powder. Whatever you feel like.
1 lb ground beef (chicken or turkey is fine too)
a splash of whatever you’re drinking (water, wine, beer, coffee)
1 can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
2 cans beans, drained and thoroughly rinsed. Mix and match; tonight I used black and pinto
1 small can white corn
2-3 chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped
Cilantro and lime wedges for garnish

Heat olive oil in a pot or dutch oven. Saute diced onion until translucent then add garlic and ground spices and cook for another couple of minutes. Add meat and brown, stirring. Deglaze with a splash of liquid, then add tomatoes, beans, corn, and chipotles and water to cover. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, covered, then uncover and evaporate liquid to desired thickness.

Tonight I made a regular dinner a little special by spooning our Midsummer Avocado Salad on top. I was curious…blue cheese with chili? The answer a resounding “yes!”

Beet Cake

A few days ago a friend of mine posted this gorgeous video on Facebook…

beet cake from tiger in a jar on Vimeo.

…so of course I had to make it. The video is beautiful and haunting, almost ghostly. I started feeling nostalgic watching it, and I’m not sure if it was for the chocolate cake or for the card catalog. The recipe feels quaint, like a recipe that could have been passed down by Ukranian grandmothers. Lovely and simple, an extremely moist chocolate cake with a little something you can’t put your finger on…(beets!). I love recipes like these, familiar and yet unexpected.

It was so comforting to tie on my apron, bake and eat a cake on a day with a terrible thunderstorm and hail; gloomy outside, cozy inside. Zoeya is a chocolate fiend like her mommy and very much enjoyed her Friday treat.

She saw this picture just now as I was writing about it and told me “That’s for AFTER dinner.” That’s true for her maybe, but I informed her I am a grown-up and can eat my cake whenever I want.

Beet Cake

1 1/2 c dark brown sugar
1 c butter
4 oz semi sweet chocolate, melted
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
2 c beets, pureed
2 c flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

Cream together brown sugar and butter with a hand or stand mixer. Add melted chocolate and blend together, then beat in eggs one by one. Add vanilla and beets and combine well. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt together, then stir into beet mixture. Pour into a greased 10″ spring form pan and bake at 375 for 30-35 minutes.

Let cool, then transfer to a plate. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and decorate with a sliced beet.

Quick baker’s note: as much as I love brown sugar, I usually only buy it when I’m baking something specific, which discourages impromptu baking. However, I’ve found you can quite easily substitute the same amount of granulated sugar plus 1-2 tbsp molasses per cup of sugar.

Paki Tacos

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I absolutely love Latin culture. I love the language, the food, the music, the dancing. When I met Shan, I was pretty much immersed. I was going salsa dancing every weekend, and I was eating arroz con gandules instead of biryani. After we got married, I started cooking mostly Pakistani and Indian food, but I will never stop cooking Latin food; it’s such a nice reminder of that time in my life and the people that are still dear friends, even though we don’t see each other as much anymore.

Tonight I made a dish that’s a fusion of the foods that Shan and I both love. This dish is my past and my future on one plate.

Instead of pulled pork (we don’t eat pork!) this is made with pulled chicken thighs, with a spicy tomato sauce flavored with both South Asian spices and smoky chipotle pepper, and just a little brown sugar. With gingery basmati rice, a fresh, sweet corn relish, and delicate pickled shallots (I put pickled shallots on everything), this is a delightful mix of flavors and textures.

Shan approved; he ate four and gave them their name – Paki Tacos.

Paki Tacos

For pickled shallots
Combine 2 sliced shallots, 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, 2 tsp honey, and a couple pinches of salt in a coffee cup and let pickle while you cook the rest.

For chicken + tomato sauce
4 chicken thighs
salt & pepper
olive oil
1/3 c sherry (white wine, chicken broth, or water also fine)
1 tbsp butter
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp each: ground cumin, ground coriander, paprika, garam masala
1 can diced tomatoes
1 large carrot, chopped
2 chipotle peppers (and a tbsp or so of the adobo sauce)
1 tsp brown sugar

Heat olive oil on high while you salt and pepper chicken thighs. Brown chicken thighs on both sides, covered so they start to cook through. Check for doneness, you may need to add a splash of water and cover so they cook through the rest of the way. When they are cooked, let water evaporate and remove chicken to a plate to cool.

Deglaze pan with sherry, reduce by at least half, then add butter, cinnamon, and cloves and reduce heat to just above medium. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are translucent. Add garlic and ground spices and cook, stirring, for several minutes. Add tomatoes, carrots, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, and about a cup of water, cover and crank the heat back up. Cook for 10 minutes or so, uncover and reduce if it’s too liquidy (you want it not too dry, but thick), remove from heat, and stir in brown sugar.

While the sauce cools, shred chicken thighs with two forks. Transfer sauce to a food processor, puree, then combine chicken and sauce in the pot and gently warm through.

For corn relish
2 ears white corn
small handful cilantro
1 lime (zest of all, juice of half)
2 tbsp yogurt
salt & pepper

Boil corn in pot of generously salted water. Drain and cool. Finely chop cilantro and combine with lime zest, lime juice and yogurt. Cut the corn off the cob and gently stir with yogurt mixture.

For gingery basmati rice
Rinse and soak 1 c rice (15 min is fine). Boil and salt 2 c water, grating in 1/2 inch ginger. Add rice, cover, and reduce heat to low, cooking until done, about 15 to 20 minutes.

For tacos
Assemble all of the above in warm corn tortillas and enjoy.

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Quiche

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One of my favorite snacks, or even part of a light, snacky dinner when I’m alone, are crackers spread with cream cheese with bits of smoked salmon perched on top. That inspired this quiche, which turned out creamy and velvety with a salty, lemony bite. Perfect for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Quiche

1 pie crust, homemade or store-bought

I made the press crust from The Joy of Cooking. The texture will be crumbly vs. flaky, but it is so, so easy to make. Quick instructions: in food processor, combine 1 1/2 c flour, 1 stick unsalted butter, pinch of salt and 2-3 tbsp milk. Press into a pie plate, crimp the edges if you can be bothered (I prefer mine rustic!) and bake for 18-22 minutes at 400. Brush with an egg yolk and return to oven for 2 min.

4 oz cream cheese, softened
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 milk
6 eggs
4 oz smoked salmon, cut into slivers
small handful chives, chopped (dill would also be nice)
1 tbsp capers

Blend the cream cheese, lemon zest and milk with a hand mixer, until creamy and smooth. Add eggs and blend until combined. Fold in salmon, chives, and capers. Pour into pie crust, stir so that the salmon is evenly distributed, and bake for 25-30 min at 400, until golden brown and set. If, like I was, you are worried about your crust getting too brown, cover with foil.

Tapenade, Take Two

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A couple weeks ago, Shan took me to Restaurant Depot. He goes fairly often as he owns a Quiznos, but this was my first time. I was having lots of fun feeling like Jack in the Giant’s house, surrounded by bags of onions I could barely lift, gargantuan tins of tomatoes, mayonnaise tubs the size of Zoeya. Shan needed some stuff for the store but let me grab a couple things as well, so I chose a large bottle of sherry vinegar and enormous jars of olives and capers.

I went home to make tapenade to take to a barbecue at my sister’s house. It did not turn out well. I usually make tapenade from olives from the olive bar at Harris Teeter, but these olives were extremely briny so my tapenade turned out unbearably salty (how embarassing! This is why you never make something new for a party but I’m slow to follow advice). Only slightly daunted, I tried again, this time soaking my briny olives in water for a couple days in the fridge, and the result was much, much better. Delicious even.

The first time I used a food processor, and you can too if you don’t have my compulsion to pulse everything into oblivion. I needed to chop mine by hand if I wanted it to have any sort of texture, which I did the second time and it turned out very nicely.

Tapenade

3 c mixed olives
1 tbsp capers, chopped
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
small handful basil, chopped
3 tbsp olive oil

If you are using extremely briny olives, soak in water and keep in the fridge for a day or two (otherwise skip this step). Pit and chop the olives and combine with capers, sherry vinegar, basil, and olive oil.

This is just a basic, basic recipe; you can dress it up by adding shallots, sundried tomatoes, roasted red pepper, different herbs, etc. Perfect as a dip or spread for all your summer barbecues.

I ate leftovers for breakfast – a whole wheat bagel toasted and spread with cream cheese then heaped with tapenade. Heavenly!