May 042014
 

I find the concept of terroir fascinating. It’s a set of characteristics about where a food was grown or produced that affects the way it tastes. This concept is used a lot in wine and it refers to the special characteristics of a region’s soil, water, micro-climate, etc. that make it impossible to reproduce. You can’t just dig up a grape plant from France, plunk it down in Ohio, and expect it to taste the same. You also see this idea in cheeses from pasture-fed animals (as special characteristics of the place’s grace ultimately affect the cheese’s taste) or wild-yeast breads (as many strains of lactobacillus are regional and unique in flavor), or from man-made sources such as the bagels in New York City (whose special flavor is rumored to come from the water’s pipes).

This dish has absolutely nothing to do with that. But I have to admit that this recipe has a special terrior in my memory. Though this is a distinctly regional dish, it really has nothing to do with the more conventional definition. It’s difficult to explain, but whenever I cook this or eat it, I’m transported to specific points in space and time in my memory. I remember fun times with my friend Adrienne and the great pride that she has in this wonderful family recipe. I’ve been lucky enough to be on the receiving end of this dish from her several times and can remember with searing detail so much of those meals. And, fortunately for me, I was able to peer over her shoulder one day as she cooked it and she showed me what she meant when she said “cook it until it looks right.” Adrienne is one of those people who understands the transformative power of a good meal shared with the right company and the power of such food to cement an experience in your mind and the ability of it to transport you back in a split-second — its mental terrior, as I’ve clumsily attempted to explain. And even if this recipe isn’t tightly moored in wonderful and happy parts of your brain as mine is, I think you’ll find that this is most definitely some good eats.

Sittie's red beans and rice

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Oct 252009
 

I’ve never been a big fan of rice. The way Americans do it is just so… blah. Brown rice suffers even more than the typical white rice. Some inspiration is needed, and fast!

Bored with rice?  Bring some new flavors into the mix
Nikon D50

We’re not going to even talk about boxed products like Rice A Roni – all I can taste is chemicals, and if you’re daring enough to face the three-inch list of ingredients, you’ll find MSG or its precursors. Yuck! Many people have tried to liven up rice by adding chicken broth or stock, but this too is problematic. If you use commercial broth, you’re left with something unpalatably salty. If you use homemade stock, the gelatin interacts with the grains somehow, leaving a gross, sticky mess that is incapable of absorbing all of its cooking liquid. I have tried many, many times to find a good water-to-stock ratio that will flavor the rice but won’t leave it gummy and waterlogged but have failed every time. Clearly, another approach is in order.

Bored with rice?  Bring some new flavors into the mix
Nikon D50

First off, I gave up any hope in making plain brown rice interesting. I needed to infuse some other flavors, and fast. So one day at a local health food store, I parked myself in front of the bulk bins and started picking and choosing some different grains to make my rice more interesting and more textured. I was very happy with my chosen blend – brown rice, wild rice, wheat berries, and rye berries – because it definitely had more flavor and it had a marvelous toothiness to it, but I still wanted more.

To find something suitable, I took my cue from a land where rice is actually a staple grain, figuring that they, of all people, would know how to make it interesting. I settled upon some inspiration from spiced Indian rice dishes that I love so well and opted for a pilaf that begins with whole spices. This, too, was better, but it still needed something more. Little by little, I whittled my way down to the solution, adding and subtracting things, until last night, I finally hit upon a solution I loved. Even The Hubs liked it! At long last, rice – and most especially, healthy brown rice – has been delivered from tasteless purgatory.

The finished pilaf: flavorful rice,at last!
Nikon D50

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Oct 262008
 

You may be sad because summer has come to an end, taking with it delightful foods like nectarines, plums, berries, and locally grown vegetables like greens, cauliflower, chard, beets, and carrots.

But don’t fret! Fall has its place in a foodie’s heart because it brings delights like root vegetables, butternut squash, pumpkins, an untold number of apple varieties, Bartlett pears, and pomegranates.

I recently celebrated fall by having a harvest dinner (suggested by my most wise and venerable husband). On the menu was a roasted pear salad with candied walnuts, blue cheese, and homemade balsamic vinaigrette, cabernet-glazed shallots, butternut squash risotto with wilted spinach and toasted pine nuts, sauteed pork tenderloin with an apple-sage sauce, and stuffed baked Jonagold apples with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert. I love this menu — it’s so autumn-y with its warm, subtle flavors and unifying themes. Sage and apple are present in many of the dishes but are different and subtle enough to not get old or tiring. And as my guests pointed out last night, there’s plenty of booze in every dish! So dig in and get to love autumn as much as I do, and share it with some good friends too.

Savory, delicious flavors star in this sumptuous autumn feast
Nikon D50

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May 192008
 

If you’ve yet to foray into the world of Indian cuisine, chicken tikka masala is a good guide for first-timers. There are many aspects of it that are familiar and comfortable to a Western palate (like chicken and rice) but with a decidedly Eastern bent. And by Eastern bent, I mean wonderfully aromatic and fragrant rice, and a richly spiced, yet not spicy, warm sauce for the chicken. It’s a small wonder that this is the most popular Indian dish in the world, even if it’s not, well, strictly authentic Indian.

A handwritten recipe
Nikon D50

Another fantastic thing about chicken tikka masala is that it requires no special equipment. It would be nice to have a tandoor, but a broiler make an acceptable stand-in. Now if only I could find a good tandoor substitute when making naan… But that’s another story of a less successful foray. For now, stick with the chicken tikka masala and really start using some spices in your cooking!

Chicken tikka masala served atop fragrant basmati rice
Nikon D50

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