Sunday, 25 November 2012

Kashmiri Masala Tofu, Take 2

Recipes are not static. They evolve, and they change as you learn about new ingredients and new cooking techniques. I've blogged about my favorite go-to curry before, but like any good old recipe, I ended up tired of always making it the same way and had fun throwing a few different things in it.

Recipes (mine, and everybody else's) are not gospels. Quantities can be changed, spices can be omitted, ingredients can be substituted. That's what's awesome about cooking: unless you are baking (and therefore conducting a chemical experiment requiring great precision), you can be as creative as you like. Make a recipe one way today, then make it with different veggies tomorrow. Just taste as you cook; trust your taste buds, nose and eyes.

No one's perfect, and everybody cooks duds every once in a while. Everybody burns food, cuts fingertips, ruins cooking pots. It is not a tragedy, and despite how I feel about it when it happens, no one dies from fucking up dinner. Cooking means learning from your mistakes as much as it means enjoying your success.

Enough philosophy! Here is my re-vamped Kashmiri Masala tofu!

2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, chopped
1 yellow onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup Kashmiri Masala paste
1 pound tofu, pressed and diced or cut into small triangles
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 cup plain yogurt (optional)

Preheat a large pan over medium heat. Fry the garlic, ginger, onion and bell pepper in a glug of oil.

When the onion is soft and golden, add the curry paste, and mix well so that the onions and bell pepper are coated in the paste.

Add tofu, and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the tofu is slightly browned on a few sides.

Add the tomatoes, and mix well. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the liquid has reduced a bit. Bring the mixture to a boil, give the mixture a good stir, and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove from the heat, stir in the yogurt (if using) and serve with basmati rice.

This curry never fails to be satisfying and filling: big chunks of veggies and tofu in a fragrant, spicy sauce; can't go wrong there! This version has red bell peppers, giving it a lovely crunch, and the extra diced tomatoes make it super-saucy. With the cold days right at our door, the vitamin C from the bell peppers and the powerful immune boosters and anti-oxidants of the ginger, garlic and other spices will be much appreciated by your body! Use cubed chicken breasts instead of the tofu for a meaty bite; just let it simmer 25 minutes instead of 15, to make sure the chicken is tender and cooked through.

Have fun with your recipes: the only risk you are taking is being pleasantly surprised with the outcome!

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Meat and Mushroom Lasagne

I have been working on this lasagne recipe for a while. I had started experimenting with it in the spring, but when the hot weather arrived, I thought this monument of a recipe was a bit too heavy to cook. Who wants to slave over 3 different steaming pots when it's 35 degrees in the shade? The pesto lasagne was more weather appropriate, but now that the evenings are colder, I felt like trying my meat and mushroom sauce again.

Baked pasta dishes have an aura of intense comfort food to me. Filling, rich and covered in melty cheese. It can't get much better than that in my world, especially if I have a big glass of red wine to wash it down with. And just like non-baked pasta, it seems the possibilities are endless when it comes to combining flavors and textures. I wanted to replicate the signature sauce from my favorite little Italian restaurant, Napoli Pizzeria: meat and mushroom sauce. When I went to school a few block from that restaurant, I used to gorge myself on this delicious mixture. Now I wanted it at home!

By the way, if you are ever in Montreal and appreciate kitsch decor and perfectly done pasta, please run to this little family-owned restaurant on St-Denis street in the Quartier Latin. The prices are very reasonable, there is a about 100 different pizzas on the menu and if being serenaded by an odd Mariachi band is not a problem for you, you will have a blast.

Of course, I don't have the original Napoli Pizzeria meat and mushroom sauce recipe, so I improvised a bit, made a lovely mushroom bolognese (that I have preciously shared here), a ricotta mix laced with savory herbs and assembled a lasagne. Here is the result!

10 to 20 lasagne noodles, pre-cooked (or no-boil lasagne noodles)

Meat and mushroom bolognese:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon chili flakes
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 pound ground beef
1 (28 ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14 ounce) can garlic tomato paste
1/3 cup red wine
Freshly ground black pepper

Ricotta blend:
1 pound fresh ricotta cheese, room temperature
1½ cups grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup whole milk
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1 (340 gram) package of pizza mozzarella, grated

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-heat. Add the garlic and onion and sauté until the garlic is fragrant and the onions are soft and slightly golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring often, until they have released their liquid and are getting colored (they will also shrink and become nice and soft).

Add the ground beef, breaking up the big pieces with a spoon, and cook until the meat crumbles, about 7 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes and tomato paste and mix well to blend everything. Add the red wine, stir and bring to a boil. Lower to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes to 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 375°F and grease a 9- by 13-inch pan. Combine the ricotta, Parmesan, milk, basil, thyme, and rosemary in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread about a ladleful of the bolognese sauce in the bottom of the greased pan. Arrange about 1 layer of noodles over the  sauce (it’s okay if they overlap slightly), then cover the noodles with more sauce, followed by about ½ of the cheese mixture. Repeat once. Add a final layer of noodles, cover them with the remaining tomato sauce, and arrange the mozzarella in a single layer on top. Wrap tightly with foil and bake for 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes, until the noodles are cooked through and the cheese is golden.

I highly recommend you use pizza mozzarella to top your lasagne: it has the most awesome stretchy texture. The ground beef, while delicious, can be left out for a vegetarian mushroom-and-cheese pasta treat. Oh, and by the way, this recipe does makes a ton! Use the largest baking dish you have (or a few small ones); I got 8 helpings from this recipe.

As I explained in my previous lasagne recipe, the cooking time may vary depending on whether you use traditional or no-boil noodles. It always take a bit longer with no-boil noodles, but it is important to not over-cook a lasagne; check it after 30 minutes, testing the noodles by poking the lasagne with a fork. If it gets to soft, your beautiful pasta construction will collapse when you put it on a plate.

I was out of ricotta the night I decided to make this, so I switched the cheese and herb mixture for some creamy bechamel: that will take your lasagne to another level of richness!

4 (1/4 cup) tablespoons butter
4 cups milk
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon white pepper

In a heavy medium saucepan, melt the butter, without letting it brown. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the flour, 1 tablespoon at the time until it is incorporated. Heat up the milk in another cooking pot until just about to boil. Add ladlefuls of the milk to the butter and flour mixture. Put this mixture back on medium heat and whisk. Add the nutmeg and white pepper. When the milk is absorbed, add more, a little at the time and stir until all the milk is used up. Keep whisking until the sauce is velvety. If the sauce doesn't thicken, add some flour, one scant tablespoon at the time, stirring constantly until the desired texture is achieved (I sometimes add up to 4 extra tablespoons of flour).

If you are going to use the bechamel, build your lasagne as follows: 1 layer bechamel, 1 layer bolognese, 1 layer noodles. Repeat until you run out of noddles, top with more bolognese and cover with grated mozzarella.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Pan-Grilled Salmon with Asian Dressing

Home-made condiments are tragically underrated, and yet, they can make very simple meals spectacular. Why do those condiments not get the credit they deserve? They may not be as glamorous as other recipes, but they have their own subtle glory that needs to be acknowledged. Today, I am sharing one of my underdog recipes: my everything-tastes-awesome Asian dressing.

This little sauce/dressing/marinade can be used on salads, grilled meat and steamed vegetables. My favorite way to use it is with a lovely piece of salmon and some steamed veggies. It's the sort of super simple but utterly delicious stuff I like to whip up at the end of a long work week, when I want to feel like a top-notch cook without breaking a sweat.

Here is how to make a minimalist and tasty Asian-themed dinner:

2 (1/2 pound) salmon fillets, skin on
1 thumb-size piece of fresh ginger, grated
1 garlic clove, grated
1/2 to 1 fresh red chile, finely chopped
1 or 2 tablespoons sesame oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 or 2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 lime, juiced

Put the grated ginger and garlic in a small bowl. Add the sesame and olive oil, the soy sauce, lime juice and balsamic vinegar. Whisk together. Taste, and adjust as needed to balance the saltiness of the soy sauce, sweetness of the balsamic vinegar, tartness of the lime and heat of the chile.

Grilling fish in the pan is also very easy: preheat a grilling pan over medium heat and lightly spray with non-stick cooking spray. Put the fillets in the pan, skin-side down and baste with the Asian dressing. Cooking fish in the pan like that makes it easy to tell when it is ready to flip over, because you can literally see it cooking before your eyes. When it looks half-cooked, flip the fish fillets and let cook for another 3 or 4 minutes (depending on how thick the fillets are, and on how done you like your salmon). Serve the fillets with steamed veggies and rice, and use the leftover dressing on the fish and vegetables.

See? How easy it that! Here is how you can make it even easier: don't even think about grating garlic and ginger (or nutmeg and cinnamon, for that matter) or the small hole-side of a box grater. Just don't. Get a microplane grater: it will change your life.

Another good trick: ginger is much easier to grate if it's been frozen. I love ginger, so I always make sure to have tons of it around, and there is always a few big chunks in a freezer bag, just waiting to come out to be grated and added to recipes such as this one.

This recipe may be small and easily overlooked, but seriously, give it a shot; you won't believe how awesome it tastes!