Thursday, January 22, 2015

Shaved fennel in a pink salad

It looks like we might get a snowstorm on Saturday. Between 6-10 inches, depending on how the system moves. This calls for organizing everyone to hunker down and cook on Saturday, and ski on Sunday. Cabin magic!

People in Maine are going bonkers because the Patriots are in the superbowl (we’ll have to see about those underinflated balls), and it will be a West coast/East coast bonanza this year. Time to make a superbowl party master plan!

The salad is inspired by the next holiday after that --- Valentine’s day: raw beets, red cabbage, shaved fennel, goat cheese, roasted walnuts and balsamic vinaigrette.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Winter Kale Smoothie

We are already in the second half of January --- the year is accelerating again. I am still waiting for my first solid winter snowstorm because I am ready for skiing. I have not been all winter, and this, after all, is the state of Maine. While we had white thanksgiving and spring-like Christmas, January looks rather poor on snow. The 10 day outlooks also does not predict any changes. The other voice inside of me says “Lack of snow? Are you …like.. crazy?”. But January and February are winter months, why not sweeten them with some ski-able winterwonderland snow?


This week I have been watching live and free re-runs of a super-informative 5-day workshop on creativelive, Fundamentals of Photography with John Greengo. While John is a bit on the dry side of presenting, the workshop is so chock-full of information that I actually purchased it. It covers everything from camera technology to lenses, organization and editing of files with lightroom, composition, lighting and many more. A workshop from A to Z. Once in a while it is good to go back to fundamentals and see that there is a lot of stuff I did not pickup on the first time around. 


Since vegetables in in the winter are a rather sad assortment, I am back to kale smoothies. All the fiber, vitamins and goodness one could want in a glass of kale, almond milk and a banana with some sprinkles of sweetened coconut, pistachios and goji berries.

Also this weekend: I could not keep my eyes off the episodes of Season 2: The Fall. Ever since Gillian Anderson of X-file fame portrayed this cool, monotone, fascinating investigator on the first season of this psycho-thriller BBC series, I have been waiting for season 2. It did not disappoint. (Netflix streaming).


Friday, January 9, 2015

Five Whistles (and a Lamb Vindaloo Recipe)

I have a new appreciation of the Maine winter: long evenings with bitterly cold nights invite to sit around the fire place with good friends and family, play board games or knit, tell stories and eat good food. No one really has other plans or wants to go anywhere. You start cooking in the sunny afternoon, and by sun down it is almost time for the hungry guests to arrive.


I invited a group of friends for a post-holiday/early January evening to with Indian food, because spicy, aromatic, hot food can only add to the ‘heat from the inside’.


Admittedly, I only know one Indian dish well, and even that dish I cooked twice for this get-together since the first time I used smoked paprika instead of regular paprika, which ruined the dish, and I also realized that tamarind concentrate needs to be significantly reduced when it replaces home-made tamarind juice from a tamarind block. Oh well, we live and learn from our mistakes, right? The second time it came out well just as I remembered it. The authenticity of the dish was assure by Madhur Jaffrey cooking it with Julia Child.

It introduced me to Indian cooking 10 years ago, and I learnt a lot about roasting spices first, and then grinding them, and layering ingredients, which is so central to Indian cooking.


Fortunately, my friend S. shared the cooking for the evening, and we both cooked in parallel for the entire day, ending up with several curries, channa masala, aromatic rice, biryani, spicy runner beans, home-made mint chutney, yogurt, roti,  and 2 desserts. A feast!


Here is the recipe for the second dish, lamb vindaloo, that I more or less improvised. According to S. (the authenticity check) it was really good and there was nothing left of it by the end of the evening.

The original recipe she gave me is here (also with video!), and this one.

Lamb Vindaloo

Special equipment: pressure cooker to cook this dish in 50min, or in the oven for 2h with a dutch oven. If you use an electric pressure cooker, prepare all the steps until closing the lid in a regular pan and then fill the mix into the pressure cooker for cooking.

Prep time: 15 minutes, Cooking time: 60min  Servings: 3-4 main dishes

Note: I used a pressure cooker and therefore, I used ground spices since I did not want to find whole spice pieces in the sauce. Normally, it is made with roasted, whole spices.
  • 1-2 pounds lamb shoulder cut in 1 inch pieces
  • a few tablespoons of peanut or canola oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 10 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon (or more if you like it spicy) cayenne pepper (This is very you regulate the heat)
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/8th of a teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4th teaspoon ground cardamom
  • a teaspoon of crushed black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup water
  • 3/4 cup coconut milk (from a can, light is fine)
  • 3 TB tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar (or sugar)
  • 1-2 Tablespoon Malt vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
  • 1 Tablespoon crème fraiche
  • 1/2 Tablespoon cornstarch to thicken the sauce
In the pressure cooker, heat the canola or peanut oil to hot over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and brown; move the onion to the side of the pan, and start browning the lamb pieces, but avoid crowding the pan. In a crowded pan the lamb pieces release too much liquid and stew instead of saute and they do not brown well. Once a batch of lamb pieces is done, remove them with a slotted spoon to a plate. Saute in batches until all the lamb is browned.

Add all the lamb back to the pressure cooker, and stir with the onions. Make sure to have plenty of oil so it is not too dry. Now, add all the spices, garlic, ginger, and salt. Saute for another 2-3 minutes, then add the water, coconut milk, tomato paste, agave nectar and vinegar. Stir, close the lid, and bring the pressure cooker to pressure.

The original recipe says “cook until 5 whistles”, I did not really know how that translates, but I cooked it under pressure for 45minutes. Once done, turn down the heat, let the pressure slowly go down or release it, and open the pressure cooker. The lamb will be cooked to a soft, tender texture and the sauce will be rich and infused. To bring out the flavor even more, add a tablespoon of crème fraiche (now, that is not Indian…) and a bit of cornstarch to thicken the sauce.

Enjoy! (with rice or roti for dipping).


Monday, January 5, 2015


So, looks like everyone is finally back (to work) in 2015! We have a thin layer of winterwonderland. Five inches of snow fell yesterday and it is so cold it won’t go anywhere soon nor wilt away. Today, the skies are blue and the sun shines, and it looks beautiful.


I am watching the last few episodes of the 3rd season of Revenge, where Oliver Martinez takes a terrible exit. The show is a mix of Gossip Girl and Scandal; while it features beautiful, vile, plotting people in lush settings it lacks humor, and likeability of any character (beside Nolan Ross) and the fate of a show that should have ended after the first season.

We had the perfect conditions for a while; it had rained so much areas were flooded, and then it became very cold without any new precipitation. The ponds and local lakes are frozen with a perfectly smooth surface. People bring out their ice skates and used this natural wonder.

People even came from Connecticut and Massachusetts to bring their surf-skates.


I was thinking about kale smoothies this morning, and getting back into healthy (winter) habits, with plenty of fresh air, some winter sports, and plenty of vegetables although they are rarer this time of the year. Large pots of hot tea with lemon and some sugar. And, actually enjoying this time of the year. It’s just 2 months after all, two months of arctic cold and the occasional snow storm.

To 2015 being a good one!