Monday, January 19, 2009

Baking 101 for Ali Baba

Baking 101

For Engineers Without Borders UW Chapter's famous Dessert, Wine, and Cheese fundraiser, I've been practicing baking along with a couple other culinarily inclined members. We're getting ready for the weekend before the event, where we will each take on about 10 different desserts (and probably multiple of many of these) and try to pump them out with bakery quality and speed, with a few helpers. I volunteered myself, even though I had barely ever baked in my life before the past few months. Sure I'd helped a few friends make cookies or something of the sort, but my mother rarely baked, and so by extension, neither did I.

Needless to say, it's been a quick education! But one that has given me an excuse to fill in a sad gap in my techniques. Typically I would shy away from the unhealthy and unnecessary nature of desserts, despite how delicious they are. However, now I have a good reason to fatten up my roommates and myself...and learn a thing or two in the process. ;)

The below recipe was out of my friend Nate's Seriously Simple cookbook.

Caramelized Pear and Almond Upside Down Cake
with a caramel glaze

This was absolutely fantastic! The pears were caramelized in a 9" frying pan with the butter and brown sugar, then the batter poured on top and the whole thing baked for an hour. Inverted, it looks like that! The batter had an entire cup of ground blanched almonds, which pretty much defined the flavor, but not overpoweringly. A bit of a kick comes from a quarter cup of orange mango juice thrown in! Really great, crumby texture, with a crisp, buttery crust and a moist interior, all topped with the caramelized pear slices!

Meatily Delicious Sauce

I've been slowly converted to cooking Italian dishes like one of my favorite cookbooks, Donaldo Soviero's La Vera Cucina Italiana, would suggest - with the best possible ingredients (within reason) and with simple, subtle flavors. Along this line, for one of my best friends' birthday I whipped up a dish I'd been meaning to try...

Sugo di Carne
Leg of Lamb steaks braised in San Marzano Tomatoes, Cabernet Sauvignon, and aromatics, fork shredded and tossed with Fettucine and topped with Pecorino Romano and Parsley

Kudos to my buddy and amateur chef Noam for helping me figure out the best way to present it - he says they try to "twist" the spaghetti into a spiral on the plate. Easier said than done...but I got halfway there!

The lamb steaks were on the bone, so the sauce was all the richer from the deep flavors of the long braised bone pieces. The steaks were seared after the soffritto (mire poix) of carrot, celery, and onion was sauteed. After a quick deglaze with a cup of wine, the San Marzano (canned Italian whole tomatoes with what many consider the best flavor for sauces) went in and the whole dish braised for about an hour. At the end, the lamb was shreddable with the back of a fork! Completely succulent. The sauce was very simple, but delectably illustrated by the birthday boy:

Monday, January 12, 2009

How Afghans eat...and new camera!

Let me preface this with a bit of my own history. Since I was a little boy, I would watch my mother cook for literally an entire day, or half a day frantically, whenever we had guests. The end result would be a spread of delectable Afghan dishes that would blow any buffet out of the water. I also experienced the same whenever we would visit other families for dinner. I couldn't really speak the language yet, and usually didn't like my parent's friends' kids, so really the only way they got my lazy butt to go was the food, which I would endure four hours of boredom for without missing a beat.

Maybe this explains why I almost always make ridiculously elaborate meals for guests. That, and I love to cook and am a bit of a perfectionist.

After the whole shebang was over, as I told my friend Nate, I wanted to try to make it all seem even more "effortless" next time, to which he replied, "Maybe you should just make it effortless next time." Not bad advice. But I just can't help it!

I also just got a Nikon D40 DSLR, so expect a bit better food pictures, though until (if I can afford one) I get a good macro lens, my point and shoot actually takes better close-ups.

This was a dinner party for eight.

Boulanee Kechalu
Deep Fried Spicy Potato-Leek Samosas, served with a garlic-yogurt dip (not shown)

Burani Bonjon
Eggplant slices fried in hot oil, then braised in garlic, spices, and tomato. Served with garlic-yogurt sauce (not shown)

Qorma Sabzi
Spinach stewed with black eye peas, caramelized onion, garlic, and spices, topped with fresh cilantro.

Cumin scented, turmeric colored basmati rice, with a hint of cinnamon.

For some reason I forgot to take a picture of the Kafta Kabobs and salate!

The dishes were a big hit! I attempted to lightly coat the kafta (ground beef) kabobs with besan (chickpea) flour before deep frying them, which I think added a nice crunchy exterior. However, I used grass-fed beef, which is much harder to get to come out tender, so it was a little tougher than expected. You really have to undercook it a bit - medium at most. I also (doh!) put the kabobs in the oven to keep warm and then put bread in to warm up at 300 if they weren't overcooked before, they definitely got a bit overdone then!

More pictures, from a different dinner party the day before (cooking overload! but my roommate made the curry in this one)

Dessert first - which I made.

Walnut and Date Gateau
with dark brown sugar glaze


No time for more discussion, have to check on my Sugo di Carne!