Chicken Biryani

028aBiryani, the storied Indian dish of fragrant layered rice, spices, and (usually) meat, if made well, is one of my favorite things. A good biryani is richly aromatic; indeed, a magnificently flowery aroma is an essential part of the dish. Biryanis are made throughout India, and preparation differs depending on the region. Some biryanis are made with coconut, some with ghee, yogurt, or buttermilk; spices may include cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, fennel, or mace, among many others. The intoxicating aroma usually comes from saffron, sometimes with a touch of rosewater or kewra (pandan syrup). The word biryani is said to be of Persian origin, a corruption of the word beriyan, which in Farsi means to fry before cooking, or birinj, which means rice. Biryanis are thought to have been brought to India by the Mughals in the 16th century, although some culinary historians believe the dish pre-dated the empire. Regardless of origin, the dish has proliferated—in Hyderabad alone, there are said to be over forty distinct versions.

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Aubergine and Lentil Pie

015aAs luck would have it, the very first vegetarian main I trialed for Thanksgiving was such a winner that I did not need to attempt others. This aubergine and lentil pie hits all the right notes: it is hearty and savory without being heavy, and it’s a touch exotic yet wholesome enough to complement a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. It is also beautiful and can be cooked the day before you intend to serve it without losing any flavor or texture upon reheating. (I even thought the flavor improved after a day.) It is exactly what I was looking for – something special, festive, and autumnal for the vegetarians at the table. This pie is adapted from a recipe in Dan Lepard’s excellent home baking book, Short and Sweet. I have changed the spicing of the pie’s filling from Lepard’s original, but he deserves credit for the inspiration, the proportions, and the marvelous crust. Continue reading

Herbed Farro and Cauliflower

019aAny holiday centered around preparing and consuming abundant amounts of food is right up my street. In the United States, this holiday is Thanksgiving, and in the UK it’s Christmas. I love to cook for my friends and loved ones, and I consider my job well done when, after the meal, the people I have fed flop and groan like sunning walruses.  I have my tried and true methods (brined and convection-roasted turkey, always) and my favorite recipes (cornbread, apricot, and chestnut stuffing, and—I’m not ashamed to admit it—the Karo corn syrup pecan pie). Lately, however, my circle is expanding to include more non-meat eaters. Three years ago I was responsible for the vegan main at a Christmas dinner in London and this year, for the first time, more than half of our Thanksgiving table is vegetarian. I hate the thought of the vegetarian at a table of meat eaters feeling like an afterthought. The ‘you can eat the side dishes, that’s enough food, right?’ approach is both depressing and insulting. And mains intended to imitate the meat everyone else is eating (i.e., the dreaded Tofurky) are just plain depressing. So, over the next month (and especially over the next week), I hope to make and blog a number of tasty vegetarian dishes, hopefully to supply inspiration for your Thanksgiving (and Christmas) table. Continue reading

Chicken Liver, Pear, and Cognac Mousse

Pear

I knew today that summer was almost at an end when I saw the first new crop pears at the grocery store. It astonishes me how rapidly this one has sped past. I love autumn, but I’m not ready for it to be cold and for the days to get shorter. I have loved this summer’s late sunsets and balmy, languid twilights, which, in the Northwest, stretch on for hours. But today it finally felt like time to post this recipe, which I have kept in my back pocket for several months now. This is an old-school chicken liver mousse á la Julia Child. Far easier than a paté, this type of mousse can literally be whipped up in under twenty minutes, not including the time it needs to set (at least four hours in the fridge). It’s great when you’re cooking for a party and don’t want to fuss at the last minute. Continue reading

Pistachio and Cashew Baklava Fingers

051aBefore I set out to make baklava, a friend of Greek origin advised me, “don’t hold back on the syrup.” This is sound advice.

Baklava is a traditional dessert in countries that were part of the former Ottoman empire. Early recipes for baklava date to the fourteenth century. Layers of filo dough are brushed with clarified butter, enrobing sweetened, lightly spiced ground nuts, and baked until golden. When the baklava is fresh out of the oven and still hot, a sweet syrup—a honey syrup in Greece, and an orange-blossom or rose-water scented sugar syrup in Lebanon and parts of the Middle East—is poured over the top of the dessert, which is then left to soak for several hours. The syrup marries with the filo layers and nuts in a glorious sticky union. Continue reading

Kale, Chicory, and Hazelnut “Caesar” Salad

026aMy friend Jess wrote me recently to tell me that puntarelle has appeared at my beloved Booth’s, at Spa Terminus near Maltby Street, in London. Puntarelle is a variety of chicory grown in Italy with an unusually brief growing season, a traditional method of preparation, and a fanatical following. It is wonderfully bitter, and very crunchy. In a classic puntarelle salad, the stiff inner spears of the vegetable are julienned into narrow strips, and simply dressed in a garlicky anchovy dressing. In Rome (or so I have read, on this wonderful blog post), during puntarelle season, it is in markets everywhere. Some Roman vendors sell a taglia puntarelle, which simplifies the process of slicing the puntarelle, or you can buy it pre-cut. In London, I would julienne the puntarelle myself, put the strips in a bowl of ice water to curl, and warm some minced garlic in olive oil just until it became fragrant. I whisked this with a generous amount of chopped salted anchovy fillets, lemon juice, and plenty of salt and freshly-ground black pepper. This simple salad is one of my favorites. Continue reading

Southern-Style Frosted Cinnamon Rolls

341aThe thing that I love most about baking in the American South is the blithe disregard for caloric content and cholesterol. A close second is the Southern fondness for, well, stickiness. Gooey frostings and sticky caramel reign supreme. Baked goods are literally finger-licking good, and it is a glorious thing. The cinnamon roll – ostensibly, an innocent breakfast roll, but really a wolf in sheep’s clothing – in many ways epitomizes what I love best about Southern cakes. It begs to be eaten with the hands. It’s warm and yielding and fragrant and delightfully, decadently sticky. If you’re watching your waistline, after a proper cinnamon roll you may as well skip meals for the rest of the day. Southern-style cinnamon rolls don’t play around. Continue reading

Cranberry Kuchen

DSC_0306aMy blogging has suffered, as of late, as has my cooking, due to a constellation of issues – a remodel, a heavy workload, and a short-term food-writing project, which has occupied much of my evenings, and which I think I’ll be able to talk about soon. The longer I go between posting recipes, the guiltier I feel, and the more I convince myself that I need to burst back with something truly awesome. With this recipe, I’ve leant more toward the prosaic, but in a friendly holiday-cooking type of way. Kuchen, the German word for cake, is generally used to describe coffee cakes made from sweet yeast dough.  For me, sweet yeast cakes are classic holiday food.  Later this winter, I’ll wrest from my mother her recipe for Polish poppy seed cake, which she used to make at Christmas time and send to family; for now, I offer this old-fashioned kuchen. Continue reading

Pan-Seared Octopus with Delicata Squash, Chickpeas, and Saffron

DSC_0278aMany people shy away from cooking octopus, believing that it is too difficult to cook. The truth is slightly different. Octopus is relatively easy to cook; it’s tenderizing the octopus that poses the challenges. Perfectly-cooked octopus definitely must not be rubbery, but one also must not commit the cardinal sin of mushy octopus. Everyone seems to have a different method for tenderizing octopus. Some people literally beat octopus with a rock, or, failing that, with a meat tenderizer. My friend Patrick sets up a pot of boiling water and a pot of ice water, and plunges the octopus in each water bath for about ten seconds, switching back and forth, about 30 times. I have heard that tenderizing the octopus sous vide works extremely well. I used to simmer octopus for about an hour in a pot of water to which some milk (the lactic acid works the trick) has been added. But I swear by my new method, which is time-consuming, but infallibly produces excellent results. Continue reading

Linguine with Sea Urchin Roe (Uni) Sauce

DSC_0255_01aStrictly speaking, the edible part of sea urchin – uni, as it’s called in Japanese – isn’t roe at all. It is the animal’s gonads, and will eventually turn into sperm (milt) or roe, depending on the animal’s sex. Uni is a delicacy, and an acquired taste. It is intensely briny, with a heady, floral, loamy aftertaste. In Japan, it’s served most commonly as nigiri sushi, on rice, and it is classified according to quality, based upon its color, flavor, and firmness. Uni is best eaten fresh, i.e., from an animal that you have just killed yourself, however you can also buy uni cleaned, packaged, and ready to eat. This dish – al dente linguine, served in a rich sauce made with fresh raw uni emulsified with melted butter and lemon – is a coastal Italian classic, and, cleaning of the sea urchin aside, it is quick and remarkably easy to prepare. It tastes like nothing you have ever eaten before in your life. Continue reading