Argentine Favorites: ñoquis (gnocchi) de 29

Happy Leap Year, Happy February 29th! An Argentine tradition I love is eating gnocchi (ñoquis) on the 29th of every month. Unfortunately, making potato gnocchi is a pain in the tush. Fortunately, ricotta gnocchi makes my life simple.

1 Pound Full Fat Ricotta (strained via cheesecloth/sieve for a few hours)
1 Cup All-purpose Flour + 1/2 Cup Extra for Dusting the Dough
1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese (Or Other Cheese)
1 Large Egg

Mix egg, cheese, & ricotta together well. Add 1c of flour, in bits, to mixture until just blended. Place mixture on surface dusted with flour, then gently work (with your hands) until slightly sticky. Dust with flour, again, then break of small pieces and roll into long cylinders, then slice into small bite-sized pieces. Boil in stock pot with plenty (plenty) of salted water and cook until they float to the surface, around a minute. Toss in something else delicious such as herbs wilted in butter or many hour braised lamb (shown above.)

Coconut Water

Roadside Coconut Water VendorYesterday, I introduced my dad to coconut water in a box. He was very confused. There are several reasons, mainly the following:

(1) Process For Extracting Coconut Water
Option 1: Hacked open with a machete by a roadside vendor who’s carting a string of coconuts along on his bike. (e.g., Left @Karnataka, India.) Option 2: DIY. As a kid, we used a Phillips head screwdriver and a hammer to puncture a few holes in the coconut and up-end it over a glass to drain the water.
(2) Access to Coconuts Not too long ago, my family bought whole coconuts from specialty stores. Most Midwestern markets only carried coconut flesh, either in cans or sweetened & shredded in bags.
(3) Price Coconut water at the store was $3. A whole coconut costs less. Roadside in India, it’s likely closer to $0.20 to get an entire coconut sliced open & served with a straw.
(4) Nutrition Coconuts generally don’t come with nutrition labels. We were both surprised at the high levels of potassium and low sugar content. “No additives?” My dad was suspicious.

Nonetheless, my dad managed to drink half of my coconut water, then told me it was too expensive and complained it didn’t taste as fresh as it should.

Today, when I bought another box, he happily stole another half of my coconut water, smiled, then handed it back to me without saying a word.

Wanderlust Favorites: K.C. Das

If you like Indian Sweets, especially if you like Bengali Sweets (the best, although I’m biased), K.C. Das is a must visit if ever in Kolkata (for the original) or at other locations in India. K.C. Das is famous for their roshogollas (a.k.a. rasgullas), but I’m partial to the Bengali classics of Payesh (similar to kheer, but better) & Sandesh.

Sweets are an integral part of Bengali culture, akin to how I see the importance cheese in France. Even beyond regional specialties, many towns have sweet specialties that can only be found there, or at least in their arguably “proper” form. (Yes, sweet snobbery is alive and well.)

Burdwan, a city about an hour north-west of Kolkata, has three specialties that I love: Sitabhog (sweetened rice flour, re-pressed into rice shape); Mihidana (think Jalebi caviar); and Langcha (eclair size Gulab Jamun!)

All I need now is to figure out how to get K.C. Das to open up in Seattle so I don’t have to wait for the next time I am in India!

Midwestern Favorites: Porter Beer Kebabs

As a Midwesterner, cooking with beer is very important. What’s a better way to spend a Sunday than grilling up some porter marinated meat kebabs? Toss in some whole garlic, sesame seed, and porter in with cubed red meat of your choice for up to an hour. If you love “the pain” of chili peppers like I do, you can throw some of those in as well. Then, skewer the red peppers, garlic cloves, and cherry tomatoes with the meat and cook on the grill or under the broiler. Baste with additional (fresh, not the used marinade) porter as necessary and cook until desired doneness.

Quick Tip: Marinades don’t penetrate very far past the surface for red meats. You could poke the meat with a fork to create pathways for the marinade to get deeper into the meat, but then you’re also pushing surface bacteria inside, meaning you need to cook the meat more thoroughly. Marinades also prevent red meat from browning on the outside, but they do create a delicious glaze.

Revisiting Bengali Cuisine

One of the classic dishes of my youth is Chingri Macher Malai Curry (shrimp in a Bengali coconut curry sauce). The photo to the left shows the dish, just at the point where the shrimp is about to bathed in delicious coconut milk. But before that, you have to sauté the shrimp, then the puréed onions & ginger & spices, then place the shrimp back, then you can add the coconut milk. At least, this is the vague outline of my father’s secret family recipe.

The smell of simmering coconut curry is one of the most comforting and instantly peaceful things I can imagine. But, food is changing. I recently decided to read Modernist Cuisine from cover to cover. I’ve poked around within the 2,438 glorious pages, including a quick stop at the discussion on Indian curries. I see a lot of compatibility between Bengali food and Modernist Cuisine.

I wonder how I can I incorporate “high tech” cooking into a traditional one: Bengali. The smells and methods of crafting Bengali dishes are interwoven with many memories. When I think about cooking the shrimp sous vide, will I miss the sounds of the shrimp sizzling, the wafts of changing smells as it sears? Or will the way I form or call upon memories associated with my food change in new and exciting ways, just like my Kindle did for reading, even though I love the feel of paper?

For any culture, any person, you can always find a connection through what they love to eat. Food also connects me to myself: It reminds me of people I love, places I learned from, and sometimes, things I forgot to do.

Is it possible to innovate on the foods of my youth without losing my passion for connectivity? I believe so. Modernist Cuisine focuses on improving the dialogue between chefs, (both professional and home), and eaters through food. I’m excited to see how it helps me transform my traditions. Now, just to get myself a better sous vide than my beer cooler hack and get cracking on a more upscale DIY version.

Midwestern Favorites – Roasted Potatoes

Why is 425 such a great temperature for potatoes? Two options shown above:
A) More indulgent, cheesy potatoes (scalloped, gratin dauphinois). Thinly sliced, layered with cream and cheese (e.g., 1:2 ratio cream:gruyère), salt & pepper, baked at 425 until golden brown, usually around 20-30 minutes.
A) Healthier, tossed in 1 tbsp olive oil & oregano, oven roasted at 425 for around 15 minutes.

Sweet Dreams

Make any dessert special with this simple recipe courtesy of Berenice Guerra de Ramírez.

Heat sugar over medium heat. It will take a few minutes to begin dissolving. Once it’s fully dissolved, reduce heat to low and stir to even out color. When the mixture “looks” like caramel, drizzle over parchment paper or a silpat in the desired shape and let cool.

Want to know about the chemicals in your food? There’s an app for that!

The Center for Science and Public Interest (CSPI) has a new app called ‘Chemical Cuisine.’ It helps you understand ingredients that may sound natural, such as caramel coloring, that actually contain a number of carcinogens. It also helps demystify colorings with suspicious names (e.g., yellow #6?).

As this application is only a list of various ingredients, you may want to investigate some of the other numerous applications out there that rate food brands and help you make good food choices based on your needs (e.g., Fooducate or Shopwell).