Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Why didn't I know about this sooner?

Cheeselings, I'm in heaven.

Why did it take Daily Candy to make me aware of this fantastic foray into fromage ? I want to sign up for every class. Which means, of course, I'm going to need a new back-to-school wardrobe. I'm thinking a smart collection of garments in stretchy fabrics with elastic waistbands. Maybe something in the vein of those muu muus the Project Runway crew made for their moms. And yes, I am very excited for the show's conclusion tonight. Make it work, people.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Autumn associations or a feast for the senses. Please let's make Kaddo Bourani!

There’s no other season that affects me so profoundly.

Maybe it’s because, since moving to the Bay Area, I long for fall. At the first hint of summer’s waning, I find myself consciously stretching my senses to pick up the scent of a wood fire or identify that specific dry crispness in the air. This time of year, I’m obsessed with experiencing the season in any way that heightens my senses. I want to build fires, not only for heat, but for the crackling snap of twigs and the smoky smell that fills the house. I want to cook roast dinners using lots of squash, pumpkins, parsnips and beets. I want to taste the deep, dark flavors of the season like maple and molasses. I want to make gingerbread cake and sticky toffee pudding. I want to bake apples stuffed with rosemary and brown sugar. I want to drink Beaujolais and drive through wine country and see the autumn colors. And I want to do it all day, every day, until Christmastime.

With all this in mind, I was thinking the other night about making something to eat that would, in one dish, marry all the flavors and smells and textures of autumn. I knew it would require acorn squash or pumpkin and I wanted layers of deep complex flavors, as well.

It had to be kaddo bourani.

A popular Afghan dish, kaddo bourani features roasted sweet pumpkin in yogurt sauce, often topped with lamb or beef. It’s a genius blend of sweet and savory that absolutely satisfies my craving for all things edibly autumnal. If you want to make it the traditional way, there are tons of recipes online. Or if you want to experience it in authenticity, check out The Helmand in North Beach–the only Afghan restaurant in the city, as far as I know. I’ve not eaten there, but I’m told this dish is a house specialty and I’ve no doubt they do it right.

If you intend to make it yourself, you’ll notice that most recipes online ask for a few cups of sugar to sweeten the pumpkin flesh. I can’t bring myself to just pour refined white sugar over that beautiful pumpkin, so I use a bit of maple syrup instead. Sure, it’s just as sweet, but somehow it seems less of an offense.

The following is my version of Kaddo Bourani, which is by no means traditional, nor is it exacting, but as with Indian food, you can play around with measurements and the flavors mix and mingle beautifully whether you favor the curry, the raita or the chutneys.

Kaddo Bourani

2-4 sugar pie pumpkins
1 cup grade B maple syrup (available at health food stores)
1 pound ground beef or lamb
2 cups stewed tomatoes
1 red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 cups plain yogurt (more if you like it tart, as I do)
a few leaves fresh mint, chopped, for topping
salt, pepper
allspice (optional)

So, to begin, cut the top off your pumpkin as you would a jack o’ lantern. Then cut down the side, splitting it into 4 slices. Repeat on each pumpkin. Use a dull knife or serrated spoon to scrape the seeds and pulp from the core, leaving the flesh intact. Once you’ve removed all squishy, icky bits, arrange the pieces of pumpkin, flesh side up, on a baking sheet that’s been greased or sprayed with cooking oil. Then pour a little maple syrup into the “cradle” of each pumpkin piece. Maybe drizzle it across, or brush each piece so all of the flesh has a little sweet coating. Pop the pan in a 450 oven and let roast for around an hour. This can take up to 2 hours, but the pumpkins are small, so an hour should be sufficient. You’ll know they’re ready when the flesh is soft and brightly colored and a fork easily pulls it from the rind.

While your pumpkins are roasting, sauté your garlic and onions, being careful not to burn either, but stirring them until translucent and golden. Remove and set aside. Now brown your beef or lamb, being sure to season with plenty of salt and, if you’re adventurous, a touch of allspice. Once the meat is browned, strain it to drain it of excess fat. You don’t want that nasty layer of lard coating your leftovers tomorrow morning, do you? Good. Then return the meat to the pan, adding the onions, garlic and stewed tomatoes. Turn it up to low-medium heat, add the yogurt, and stir until the sauce is all mixed and warmed through.

When the pumpkins are cooked, remove them from the oven and scrape the flesh from the rinds. If possible, do so to form little cubes, but it’s fine if it comes off in a mushy form. It will still taste divine. By now, the syrup should have soaked in, imparting a deep, sweet flavor. Top the pumpkin with the meat and yogurt sauce and sprinkle a few strips of fresh mint on top. I like to serve this with peas tossed with sherry vinegar and fresh mint or spinach sautéed with garlic, olive oil and sea salt.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Easy, cheesy pizza crust

When it comes to pie crust (I mean sweet pie), I find the homemade variety a nice-to-have, but not a need-to-have. That is to say, if I have the time and inclination, I'll make it from scratch, but with so many readymade options that taste just as good, I don't mind cheating so I can concentrate more on the filling. Not so with pizza crust. I've been routinely disappointed by any sort of premade dough or crust, despite trying many brands and varieties. And don't even get me started on those vile Boboli shells.

Then I discovered the pre-made pizza dough at Trader Joe's. It comes in a small ball, just the right size to cover a petite cookie sheet and it really yields a lovely crust. Plus, ringing up at something like a buck, you just can't beat it for a cost-conscious way to feed a group.

Take last night, for example. I had a friend from high school and her husband coming to town and I was asked to make dinner for 6 to bring to someone else's house (because her kitchen is under construction). And yes, that was a ridiculous run-on. I blog like I talk--too much, too fast. Anyway, I prepared 3 pizzas and cooked them in advance, leaving them in the oven just a few minutes shy of their optimal cooking time. Then, once I transported them to her place, we finished individual slices in the toaster oven for perfectly crispy crusties.

Easy pizza idea

(This entry is really feeling like it should be on that "Semi-Homemade" show with Sandra whatshername and her crafty cheater recipes. There or one of those midwestern mom mags like Ladies Home Journal.)

Anyway, if you can get past the "cheating" aspect of this assignment, check out the refrigerated dough at Trader Joe's. Don't be tempted by the wheat or herbed versions. Stick with the basic old dough and grab a couple while you're there. To prepare them, let them come to room temp for 20 min or so. Then, liberally flour a work surface, rolling the dough around it and kneading and stretching it for at least 5 minutes. This is important so it becomes elastic enough to fit your pan. Lightly grease a small-sized baking sheet (or as many as you have rolls of dough). Then stretch and work the dough until it covers the pan. From there, you can go to town with the toppings. I like to make one with a tomato sauce (in this case, I used the red sauce I made by pureeing grilled tomatoes and onions from our last BBQ), a plain white version and, if I'm feeling saucy (groan), a pesto option.

A nice option for the white pizza is a grated fontina base, topped with rounds of goat cheese and finely chopped rosemary. It's so simple, but the strong rosemary flavor combined with the tart chevre is deeply satisfying. I also love to use olives anywhere possible, be they kalamata, green or picholine. That salty, briney taste really jacks up otherwise dull toppings.

Then, just pop 'em in a 350 pre-heated oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and crispy. Molto buono!

So, that's about it for today. Sadly, I have no photos of my creations, but in my effort to keep posting here regularly, I have to march forth, photos be damned! (Well, until the next time I have my camera handy in the kitchen) Till then....ciao ciao my little cheeselings, and thanks for reading.