I Curse Over Spoiled Milk.

If you make the Indian food from this post, great.  But the take-home lesson here is to explore the restaurant supply stores and ethnic food shops in your area.  For me, anyway, it’s like going to a toy store and then on a scavenger hunt.  What inspired this post was a visit to Surfas, a restaurant supply store near me in Culver City which offers free cooking demonstrations.  That weekend, Chef Neelam Batra prepared and gave us recipes for some delicious vegetarian dishes, which sent me on a quest to find the spices she used.  In the following recipes, there are only two spice mixes that you might not find in a regular grocery store:  chaat masala and chickpea (or chana) masala.  The ones I found were packaged in small boxes.  I’m going back for all my spices; they’re so much cheaper!

This chickpea salad would make great potluck food if asked to bring a hearty salad.  It was one of those recipes that seems overwhelming if you don’t do prep work. (I actually love chopping and combining things into my mini, glass Target bowls. Then I like to leave the room, come back, and pretend Martha’s kitchen slaves have prepped everything for me!) So I’ll copy out the ingredients you’ll need and provide you with the steps I took to follow the original recipe:

from Chef Neelam Batra as demonstrated at Surfas, Culver City

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 large tomato
1 small seedless cucumber
4 scallions, white parts only
1 C cilantro
1 whole serrano pepper
1 t garlic
1 T fresh ginger
3 15 oz cans chickpeas
2 1/2 t chaat masala
2 T ground coriander
1 T chickpea masala
3 T peanut oil
1/2 C water

1. Finely chop: tomato, cucumber, scallions, cilantro, serrano pepper
2. Use a microplane zester to grate: 1 t garlic and 1 T ginger
3. Rinse and drain chickpeas in a colander

Organize into separate bowls
1. tomato, cucumber, scallions, 1/4 C of cilantro, 1 t chaat masala
2. garlic, ginger, serrano pepper
3. coriander, chickpea masala, 1 1/2 t chaat masala

1. Heat 3 T peanut oil in large skillet on medium-high. Add #2 bowl, stir for 1 minute.  Add #3.
2. Add chickpeas and water and cook, stirring occasionally, until chickpeas are tender and the juices evaporate, 5 minutes. Mix in remaining 3/4 C cilantro.
3. Transfer to serving platter. Mix in tomato bowl contents. Serve at room temp or cold.

Next up, homemade paneer cheese.  This was remarkable to watch.  I stood over the stove, patiently stirring for a long time before anything happened.  I wasn’t ready for the milk to boil suddenly, in a billowing, unstoppable dome, threatening to rise up over the pot and spill all over my oven range…and me!

“We’re fucked!  We’re fucked!” I yelled, stabbing ineffectively at the menacing foam.

He walked over, calmly lifted the pot, said, “Now turn off the heat.”

Oh.  Right.

After that non-disaster, I regained the calm to fully enjoy the next part. Before my eyes, the milk separated into curds and whey.

I’d recommend making this recipe just for the wonderment of seeing this process. But, hey, I am science lab deprived, so maybe it won’t impress you as much.

from Chef Neelam Batra as demonstrated at Surfas, Culver City

1/2 gallon milk (I used 2 %)
2 C plain yogurt (I bought mine at the Indian grocery store and looove it; very thick and tangy)
Cheesecloth (Surprisingly, this was readily available at my local grocery store)

-Place the milk in a large heavy saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring gently, over high heat. Just before the milk boils and the bubbles spill over, mix in the yogurt and continue to stir lightly until the milk curdles and separates into curds and whey, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.

-Drape the cheesecloth over a large pan and pour the curdled milk over it, draining the whey through the cloth and catching the curds in the cloth. Set pan with whey aside.

-With the curds inside it, pick up the cloth and tie it to the kitchen faucet to drain 3 to 5 minutes.

-Remove from the faucet and gently twist the cloth around the curds, then place the cloth between two large plates and balance the pan with whey on top. (Work close to the sink, or you’ll have a mess to clean up.)

-Remove the pan from the curds (which by now should have compressed into a chunk), cut into cubes.

-To cook paneer to eat by itself or in another recipe, fry in vegetable oil, stirring carefully to keep paneer pieces from breaking.  I made palak paneer from one of my favorite youtube video gems I stumbled upon once in search for naan.  Turns out, Manjula is quite commercial now.  Please check out some of her informative and charming videos.



I Fall For It.

It’s fall!  And Los Angeles is doing an impressive job playing at it; yesterday I wore close toed shoes.  Like oh my god.  Hey, good enough excuse for me to start in on the spices and root vegetables and squashes.  With soup in mind, I opened up Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa Family Style (Side note: Did you know it’s “Eye-nuh” not “Eee-nuh”?  Please explain.) and found “Roasted Vegetable Soup,” which boils down to (see what I did there?) oven roasting chunks of carrots, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, and parsnips in olive oil until tender, pureeing with chicken stock, and heating.

Oh yeah, I instantly caught a cold when the “weather” changed.  I may have also compromised the immune system by staying up until 3 beating a certain computer game.  (It WILL become your world.)  So the soup definitely helped.

with a bit of fried sage

Ina’s recipe includes brioche croutons, but no recipe for brioche.  She suggests instead to use “that leftover bread in the freezer.”  This is, in fact, the second time she references her frozen supply; the French toast incorporates “leftover challah from the freezer.”  What would Ina think if she opened my egg bread-less freezer?  If you find yourself equally unprepared, I suggest Cooks Illustrated online’s “Quick Brioche.”  Let me know if you need the recipe, and I will first scold you for not being a member and then whore out my password.

I’m usually not a big fan of this season, but this year I’m determined to root for it and spice it up (had to) with autumnal cookery.  And then go outside and tan by the pool.

I Smooth It Over.

The moment in The Hours when Laura agonizes over her cake’s imperfections speaks to me. I too can set expectations on a dessert and feel a great let down if all goes wrong. Just the other day a simple apple pie ended in me gouging out holes in the beautifully-goldened crust to scoop out ladlefuls of uncooked apples, slopping them into Tupperware for a future use of some sort, and inevitably drowning them in the disposal days later. But it’s ok; this one is a happy story. After a series of baking fails, I treated myself to a new kitchen toy I’ve had my eye on: an offset spatula. O man it’s worth it. It was such a treat to decorate this cake and watch how smoothly the spatula laid on the frosting.

Sometimes, when you feel like you’re not making great leaps and bounds at anything important, it’s so satisfying to have a product you can look at with pride. And then eat.

Here are the frostings I used: the peanut butter one for filling the layers and the chocolate for the outside. The cake itself was also from Smitten Kitchen. I used three layers and froze the fourth. Because I’m health-conscious.

adapted from Bon Appetit’s Milk Chocolate-Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookie filling, Feb 2006

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 C creamy peanut butter
4 T powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 T whipping cream
3 T milk

Note: I doubled the original recipe, but can’t for the life of me remember adding 12 T of cream/milk (2 times the suggested 6 T of cream), so I’m pretty sure that in my inattention I thickened the frosting and made it more ganache-like. Oh darn.

-Add chocolate, peanut butter, powdered sugar, and salt in medium bowl. Heat cream and milk to boil and pour over mixture. Mix until smooth. Cool until ready to frost.

adapted from a Sky High recipe via Smitten Kitchen

makes 2 1/2 cups; this was enough to frost the outside of a three layer cake

3 oz unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
2 C powdered sugar
1-and-a-half sticks salted butter, room temperature
3 T milk
1/2 T vanilla extract

Note: The original recipe calls for unsalted butter, which is what I used, but when I made it this way I wanted the frosting to be a little more salty. But I’m a salt and chocolate person, so it’s up to you.

-Process all ingredients in the food processor until smooth.

It was surely someone‘s  birthday.

I Snap, Crackle, and Post.

I feel like I haven’t seen these in a while. There they were at the checkout line, and there I was, back in the dorms again.

We had the requisite minifridge and microwave, but didn’t really use them for much more than Farmers Market apple juice storage and Peep fight arenas. Then, one day, someone had the genius idea to make Rice Krispie Treats. We had a microwavable (ish) bowl and a Rite Aid across the street; we had dessert. I don’t actually remember if we formed the sticky mess into any kind of pan or just grabbed a clump from the bowl. But I do remember those RKTs hit the spot.

Do they hold up, post-grad? Well, let’s just say yesterday I did make them in a pan, and today there’s only half a pan left.

adapted from the back of the Jet-Puffed Marshmallows bag, under the name “Marshmallow Crispy Squares.” Tricky.

-Half a stick of butter
(In this case, salted butter is better. Since we’re an unsalted household, I sprinkled salt on the top.)
-Half a 1 lb bag of Jet-Puffed Marshmallows
(We used a generic brand once and it was gross, proving that, with corn syrup, quality does matter.)
-Half a 12 oz box of Rice Krispies
(The bag says to use 13 ozs. Wrong. Trust me, our recipe was developed by honors students.)

In a very large microwave safe (enough) bowl, microwave the butter until melted, about forty seconds.

Add marshmallows and microwave one to one-and-a-half minutes, or until you’re sure they’re going to explode.

Find something in your room to serve as a spoon and stir. Add cereal a little at a time and stir until homogenous (in the meantime, make friends with a science major and learn what that means).

At this point, it’s better to stick it as far into the minifridge as space allows to let it cool long enough to finish a chapter or at least de-tag yourself from a dozen photos. Then eat it by scooping out however much you want and packing into a sphere or cube. But don’t spoil your dinner because tonight’s stir-fry is sure to be spectacular.

Welcome to the dorm life, hermano. If these don’t fill you up, you can always come over for dinner.

I Cook Up Some Balls.


This post will not be about bread.  The batards above are actually weapons.  Many things could have gone wrong:  While more practical to let dough rise in the refrigerator overnight, that could produce a denser loaf.  Maybe using a post-shower bathroom just doesn’t cut it as a “proofing chamber.”  Not a lost cause, but not the light, open crumb I wanted.  And I still have starter tucked in the refrigerator, ready for the next adventure.  (If anyone has begun a starter and needs follow-up recipe suggestions, please let me know.)

Too heavy to eat alone, the bread served perfectly for sauce-mopping.  And what to put in the sauce?  Well, I finally  had a good excuse to jump on the latest food trend: meatballs (they’re so hot right now).

Way before meatballs were cool, my friend Sydney and I made a batch as part of an elaborate Italian feast (this was part of our Food Outside of Our Ethnic Demographic Series, after the success of Chinese and Thai).  We found this recipe somewhere online, and I can’t credit the source.  All I remember is the one in my recipe binder is cut down from its original by 1/4 (!) which featured five pounds of meat.

adapted from the recipe card with the puppy on it

1/4 C shallots
1 clove garlic
3 T parsley
1/2 C bread crumbs (preferably Italian style bread crumbs)
1 egg
1/4 C cold water
1 T olive oil
1/2 T salt
dash of pepper
pinch of cumin and cinnamon
a few grates of asiago
3/4 lb lean ground beef
1/4 lb ground pork
olive oil

Preheat oven to 325. Puree all but beef and pork in food processor. In a large bowl, mix meat and blended ingredients with your hands. Shape into 15-18 balls. Roll in flour. In a large pan, heat olive oil on medium. Working in batches, brown meatballs, reserving the drippings and adding fresh oil if necessary. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 25-30 min.

adapted from Sauce, published by Williams-Sonoma

Preserved drippings from browning the meatballs
1 clove garlic, crushed
approx. 2 C canned tomatoes (try 14.5 oz Muir Glen Diced Tomatoes)
2 T vermouth
3 T fresh basil, plus more for garnish
I also added fresh oregano

Heat the oil (drippings) in a large frying pan.  Saute the garlic until golden-brown.  Add tomatoes and their juice, crushing with the back of a wooden spoon.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium.  Add vermouth, 1/2 t salt, and pinch of pepper.  Simmer 15 minutes.  Off heat, add basil and oregano.  I like to have some texture in a sauce, so I saved out half, pureed the other, then mixed it back together to create a nicely-balanced sauce.

Dip in!

Special thanks to Travis (who ate 6 balls) for technology assistance.

I Put Baby in a Corner.

Channing plug

Hi.  I haven’t seen you in so long, how are you?  Yes, Israel was fun.  Remember when I never wanted to talk about pad thai again?  Pita, hummus, falafel.  Chickpeas, we’re calling it quits.  I’ve got to stop traveling or I’ll starve once I get back home.  But I should say that I had some lovely food in the respites between PHF (See 5. Non-PHF Fare).

 After traveling, it’s so delightful to get back to your own bed.  So I did a running slam into it facedown and stayed there for a bit before I realized—I’d forgotten about the baby!  I ran to the fridge, and, lifting the bowl tenderly, peered under the Saran wrap.  She is alive.  A little grayed but alive.  And hungry.

 Let me backtrack.  You may recall the sad tale of my lost child, the sourdough starter baby Sharpie (Rot in Peace).  After losing him, I vowed that in the next go-round I would be a better mother: change her, feed her, always be there to wipe away her fruit flies.  I began the process and once more had a bowl of water and rye flour fermenting away in the counter corner.


 As the end of her eleven-day gestation approached, I realized I would be out of the kitchen for her first days as a completed starter.  I couldn’t bear to put another child down the garbage disposal, so I did what any conscientious mother would do in my situation:  I took my newborn to Vegas.

Feeding at a gas station on the way

Sin City must have some delightful wild yeast floating around, and as it wafted up to the 58th floor of the Wynn on the flutterings of whore trading cards, the baby grew.

Enjoying the viewAccording to The Cheese Board Collective Works (almost as awesome as the store itself), “with monthly feedings, sourdough starter will last indefinitely in the refrigerator.”  So I left for Israel with the bowl in the fridge; somehow I think Customs frowns upon bringing starter on an international flight. 

 Now back, I have some sourdough projects in the works.  So stay tuned, or RSS’d, or whatever gets you here.  In the meantime, here’s something to get you started:


Adapted from The Cheese Board Collective Works by the Cheese Board Collective in Berkeley

You will need:  Water, rye flour, lots of bread flour (I use King Arthur), and eleven days

Day 1:  In a medium non-metallic bowl, stir ½ C lukewarm water with ¾ C rye flour until smooth.  Place a sheet of plastic wrap on top (do not seal, just lay over top) and leave out at room temperature for 48 hours.  It will get bubbly.

Day 2:  Look at bubbles.

Day 3:  Feed starter by stirring in 2/3 C bread flour until smooth.  Lay plastic wrap over bowl and let stand another 48 hours.

Day 4:  Tell someone to smell the starter and watch their disgusted reaction.  The orig was named “Sharpie” for a reason.

Day 5:  Pay attention because you’re going to have to do this over and over again:  Remove ¼ C of the starter and throw out the rest.  Rinse out the bowl and put the ¼ C back into the bowl.  Stir in ½ C lukewarm water.  Add 2/3 C bread flour and mix until smooth.  Cover and let stand 48 hours.

Day 7:  Repeat Day 5 instructions.

Day 9:  Day 5.  Let stand 24 hours this time.

Day 10:  Day 5.  24 hours.

Day 11:  A star is born.  You can now do another Day 5 and then immediately refrigerate, repeating Day 5 at least monthly.  To bake with it, add to a recipe you have calling for sourdough starter or wait for my next post.

I Bike in a White Skirt and Heels.

biker kicksIt’s OK, Mambo, I wore a slip.

I’m a ladylike biker.







Wednesdays are my new fave days:  Farmers Market in the morning, So You Think You Can Dance at night.  Today I made an effort to document my route, but you just can’t get everything.  The homeless man with the tatters of his socks as he lies facedown on the grass (too liberal-guilt documentarian); the teen girls biking in front of me in their bikinis, one declaiming, “Omygaaawd, we TOTALLY shoulda worn Sun-In.  I just now thought of that” (too older lesbian creeper).  I was tempted to stop the surfer man wearing only the bottom half of his wetsuit.  But then I went over the conversation in my head:  

Me:  Hot Surfer Man, could I take your picture?  It’s for a blog feature.

HSM:  What’s the blog?

Me:  Oh, it’s a food blog.

HSM:  Then why do you need my picture?

Me:  Well, you look delicious.

But I stopped myself.  Sorry, ladies.  Here are other handsome finds:

tomatoes and nectarines

I was tempted by some “chocolate mint” but thought I’d wait until next time and use it for mint chocolate ice cream.  To celebrate this batch of produce, I think I’ll start ciabatta bigga tonight and put some fresh tomato slices on toast with the rest of the hotel butter made from last week’s lemon basil and shallot.  Wish I could link you to the ciabatta recipe, but Cooks Illustrated won’t let you load the page without membership.  Maitre d’Hotel butter’s easy though–while traditionally just parsley, lemon, and pepper, you can mix any combination of finely-chopped herbs, zest, spices, or garlicky things with softened butter and then allow to harden in the refrigerator.  Really, it’s just herb butter or “compound butter,” but sometimes it’s fun to sound more snobbishly familiar, right?

On my way home I stopped at the Border Grill for some quesadillas (and for the blog) and the Crossroads clothing store for some shoes (and for the blog).  But I made it quick because my raspberries were getting squished.  Not so great a tragedy, though, because their texture suited them nicely for cookie filling.  raspberries and chocolateDeb’s roll-out cookies were the perfect thing yesterday when I needed some chocolate but had no chips, only unsweetened cocoa.  http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/04/brownie-roll-out-cookies/.  I like to sift on a little powdered sugar when I make them, just for decoration.  And if you want to make similar fruit sandwiches, I’d suggest assembling them on a need-to-eat basis so they don’t get soggy.  

So, we’re at the end of the blog and where are these pictures from the road, you ask?  Once again, link to the cheap way to watch my videos by clicking here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Tb2veNnuuY