Thursday, April 26, 2007

Get Large

Another country heard from. I'm Ian. I went to UChicago around the dawning of the new millenium, played ultimate there with JL and JSA and BK (when he was around). Now I live in Cambridge, MA. Blah, blah.

Let's talk bivalves.

A few weeks back, I was wandering the aisle of my local fishmonger, seeking shellfish so as to sate a craving. What I really wanted was oysters. Oysters are, well, delicious. But, oysters are also quite expensive, especially really good, really fresh ones. BUT! Next to the oysters was a big colander full of mussels. Mussels aren't expensive, and I hadn't had them in a very long time, so I decided that I'd pick up a couple of pounds and see what I could do with them. (I've found that about $2/pound is a pretty normal price for mussels, at least in the Boston area in the Spring. Figure on about 1 pound per person, assuming that other foodstuffs are going to be on the table as well.)

So, I brought them home, and turned to my trusty copy of Mark Bittman's How To Cook Everything. And discovered, to my joy, that cooking mussels is very easy.

  • You start by cleaning the mussels. This basically means rinsing them, and pulling off any "hair" that's hanging off of them. (Mussel's have beards. As a facial-hair-challenged man, I'm very jealous. Punk-ass shellfish, trying to show me up.) Mussel's that have already opened need to get tossed, because it means that they've already died and won't be tasty (and, well, they may kill you). Likewise for ones that have broken shells.

  • Chop an onion and some garlic (a very rough cut is fine).

  • Take a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, over medium heat, and then saute the onion and garlic just until the onion softens.

  • Add 1/2 cup of white wine, and the mussels. Cover, and turn the heat to high. Cook for about 10 minutes.

When all is said and done, you end up with a large pile of mussels, now open and cooked. And (and this is the good part. Seriously.) you have a good pile of wonderful, delicious mussel-wine-onion broth.

Pile the mussels in a bowl, pour the broth over them. Serve with crusty bread (which, of course, gets dipped into the broth, and which may actually be the real reason to make mussels in the first place).

Bittman's got about a dozen variations -- other things to add to the broth to make various sauces, or different spices that can be added before cooking to give a hint of other flavors to the shellfish. The ones that I've tried have been pretty good, but I'm still pretty set on the basic recipie. It works for me, and it's tasty.

Over the past 6 or 8 weeks, since my first experiment with cooking mussels, I've found myself ordering them when I go out, as well as cooking them at home on occasion. The Green Street Grill is a great local place that has a very nice mussel appetizer. (It's also one of the hidden gems of Cambridge. It looks like a dive bar on the outside, but inside has some of the best food I've found in the Boston area.) Grafton Street Pub is a little too yuppie for this yuppie, but they also do a nice job with their mussels. Green Street goes a little heavier on the cream and butter in the sauce, and the bread that they serve with the mussels is just about perfect.

(I have a feeling that East Coast Grill probably does a good job with their PEI Mussels steamed in coconut milk, if only because everything that Chris Schlesinger oversees seems to turn out well. Also because East Coast Grill is my vote for bestest restaurant in the whole wide world. But I haven't had a chance to wander down to try them.)

The upshot of all this babble: mussels are tasty, cheap, and easy to cook. You should make them sometime.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Hitting the spot

Sometimes a meal just hits the spot. Doesn't have to be fancy, just has to be right. Dinner last Wednesday at Rudy's was just that kind of meal. It was just a simple cheeseburger and fries, washed down with a beer, but that doesn't begin to describe why it was so good.

First, I had been at an ultimate practice earlier that evening. Ran hard for 2 hours in 50 degree temps. Drove an hour back to New Haven. Showered. And now, was starving. Didn't have the energy to cook, so I strolled round the corner to Rudy's. Placed my order at the kitchen corner of the bar, with the glorious fry machine (imported from Belgium) in full view, golden potatoes being lifted out of the hot oil. A deluxe cheeseburger with everything (lettuce, tomato, pickle on the side), and samurai sauce (spicy aioli) with my fries (really, more properly, frites, given their Belgian pedigree).

Took a seat at the bar, saw that the special beer on tap was Leinie's Sunset Wheat. Nostalgic for the midwest, how could I resist. And I didn't regret it, the light, flavorful beer refreshing me with every sip. The burger and the fries arrived a short while later, and were devoured. The burger isn't the most spectacular around, but it's more than competent, and the bun, meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato were exactly what I needed. The dill spear was just how I like it, not too briny, so you could taste some of the cucumber that it had once been.

Oh, and those fries. Crisp, hot, and impossibly delicious. I'm salivating just writing about them. The variety of sauces to go with them is also wonderful. Everything from Curry Ketchup, to Andalouse sauce, to many varities of aioli.

Warm, full, and still humming the Band's "Cripple Creek" which had been blasting on the jukebox, I walked back into the cool New England evening...

In summary: Rudy's is a dive, no doubt about it. For Hyde Park readers, think something like Jimmy's with better food and better prices, and a better jukebox. The TV's usually have the game on. It's everything you want from your neighborhood bar.

Rudy's New Haven
370 Elm Street
New Haven, CT 06511

Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday the 13th links - the Friends in China edition

OK, I generally don't want to post stuff here that isn't directly food related. I have a dormant personal blog for that. No need to look for it. I haven't updated it in over 6 months.

But, anyway, three friends of mine recently moved to China. And they're all writing about it. Since a lot of what they say is about food, I decided to post the links here. Plus, if they get lots of comments, maybe they'll post more. All three are good writers. Brady and Peggy, it's not surprising. But my friend the Jade Tiger? I know he's funny and witty when he's not quiet and brooding, but his posts are REALLY entertaining. Maybe more so if you know him. Anyway.

Brady and Peggy. The Meisenwangs. Peggy has started calling Brady Matt. And his dad calls him Matt, too. But they're a young married couple who moved to Beijing because Peggy is a genius and therefore gets lots of money to be a genius somewhere else. Brady went because he can only eat bland food, is scared of oppressive governments, and had never left the US before. And he's rather pale and has shockingly red hair. What better place to go than China?

Kevin. Nothing really to say. But I will anyway.

If you've only seen him on the ultimate field, you probably thought, "Hey, how is this 14 year old the best ultimate player anywhere on these fields." And then he would take off the weight vest, shedding 20% of his weight, and you'd realize you're screwed.

If you only saw him at Kraft, you probably thought, "Hey, isn't that Kolb's boyfriend from their cute pictures at the Kraft gym entrance?"

If you only saw him eat, you'd probably say, "Did he just eat his weight in meat at fogo?"

If you only saw his blog, you'd probably say, "I'm surprised he's this funny when he's not drunk."

Anyway, I'm hoping to learn to save money so I can fly over there for a tournament and play with all of them. That would be really cool. Z is probably over there somewhere, too. We only need a few more for a team. Who's in?

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wednesday Morning Links

Sorry for the lack of posting. It seems only world travelers have the time to post to a food blog. Nothing interesting in food for me lately. So I'll just put up three links and hope for more culinary adventures in the future.

Jerry's is the best sandwich shop in the city. Now they will have a second location.

Mmmmm. Bacon sandwich.....

Mmmmm. BBQ.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Keema Matar

After all my railing against the dominance of Punjabi/North Indian/Mughlai food, the first recipe I'm going to post is for dish called Keema Matar, which falls firmly in that category. Ah well. This is an easy, one-dish meal, which was a staple of mine in grad school because it's so damn tasty. It was also a particular favorite of trophywife, who called it "the turkey thing":

I'm imprecise with the spices because like most Indian cooks, I cook by taste (andaaz, as mentioned before).

Keema Matar (ground meat with peas)


1. 1 lb ground turkey (any ground meat will suffice)

2. 1 lb peas (frozen will do fine)

3. 2 medium yellow onions, diced into 1/4 inch pieces

4. 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste [available at any Indian store, or make your own]

5. 1 tbsp oil (any cooking oil, really)

6. Chili, Cumin, and Coriander powder (to taste) [start with 1 tspn each of cumin and coriander, and 1/2 tsp of chili powder, then keep adding as you like]

7. Salt, sugar, to taste


8. Other veggies: a diced tomato can be nice, carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms also go well with this. Make sure you dice the veggies relatively fine.


1. Heat oil in a large saucepan on high heat

2. Fry onions till they are translucent. Dust with salt, and the spice powders

3. Add ginger-garlic paste

4. Add peas (and other veggies, if desired)

5. Keep adding salt, spice powders

6. Add the meat.

7. Keep it up with they, yup, you guessed it, salt and spice powders.

8. When the meat browns, start tasting the mixture. If it is too salty/spicy, add some sugar. Otherwise, add salt/spice.

9. After the meat browns, turn the heat down to low, and cook for another 5-10 minutes, adjusting the spices to taste.

Serving Suggestions:

I like to eat this fresh out of the pot with some hot basmati rice. It also goes well with toasted bread, or naan, or pita. A little yogurt does well to cool the flames, if you've made it spicy. Stuffing a pita with this and yogurt/sour cream is really tasty.

Finally, leftovers can be used as the stuffing for an omelette. This might be my favorite thing to do with it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Grandma's Cooking

So, the day I left Assam, my grandmother asked me what I wanted for lunch. Since I like most everything, I hemmed and hawed, not wanting to make life hard for her, but eventually sacked up and requested the following Assamese feast. Unfortunately, I was to busy stuffing myself to take pictures, but here's an attempt at description:

First course: Poita Bhat with Mitha Tel and Khorisa (Fermented rice with mustard oil and bamboo shoots).
This is Assamese comfort food. You take some cooked parboiled rice, cover it with water, and soak it overnight in a cool, dark place. The fridge actually works fine. This ferments it, and gives it an interesting sweet/sour flavor. Drain it, and the mix it with mustard oil and salt, and bamboo shoots to taste. Mustard oil is incredibly pungent, and this is definitely not for everyone. Serve the mixture with a hot green chili and raw salt on the side. Bite into the chili, eat a little salt, and then eat a little of the rice mixture. It's a very loud, very ethnic party in your mouth.

Second course: Masor Mur with Bengana (Fish head curry with baby eggplant).
I actually have very little idea what spices went into this to make it so delicious. I know fish heads scare people, but they are delicious. Interesting texture, great flavor. I'm going to guess there was some onion/garlic (but just a little), salt, and sugar.

Third course: Dayal Bhat and Xak Bhaji (Rice and lentils with a side of stir-fried greens).
The X is Xak should be pronounced like an incredibly soft H. I have no good idea how to transliterate this, but this is relatively standard. Dayal = the Assamese word for Dal. This was a nice, simple Dal, just some onions, cumin, cilantro, and turmeric. No cream, no butter. Light, and very flavorful. I'll post an approximate recipe soon.

The stir fried greens are of note because the incredible variety of greens that one can obtain in Assam is just fantastic, and all have subtly different flavors. By cooking them very lightly, you can really appreciate these differences. I know the Assamese name for many of them, but not the English. Some example of the English ones I do know: Mustard greens, radish greens, collard greens, bok choy (ok, not English, but god knows, familiar to this audience), clover (!). Though, to be fair, clover usually goes into soups.

Fourth course: Masor Tenga (Lemon-tomato soup with fish).
I could rhapsodize about Tenga Anja (literally, sour soup) for ever. It is the signature dish in Assamese cuisine, a delicately flavored broth with lemon, tomatoes, and cilantro, that comes in a thousand variations. It's also incredibly easy to make. I will post instructions soon.

The beauty of it is that you can put almost anything in it. People put in potatoes to add body to the thin broth, or greens to add flavor. Squash or zucchini goes well to absorb flavor. Fried lentil dumplings are another traditional favorite (this variation is called bor diya tenga, bor = dumplings).

But my absolute favorite is masor tenga (mas = fish). The heart of Assam is the Brahmaputra river, and the capital city, Guwahati, is right on the river. Thus, each morning, vendors come by house-to-house selling freshly caught river fish. This fish, cut into relatively small (2"x2") bone-in pieces, is lightly shallow-fried with salt and turmeric rubbed in before being immersed in the broth. The result is just incredible.

Fifth course: Doyi Bhat with Gur and Kol (Yogurt rice with jaggery and banana).
In both of the cultures that I come from (Tamil and Assamese), yogurt and rice is eaten at the end of each meal. However, in south India it's eaten with a salty and spicy pickle of some sort, while here, in Assam, it's eaten with gur (basically, brown sugar in big chunks) and bananas, almost as a proto-dessert. I like it both ways. And since I was in Assam, I followed the sage advice of Ron Burgundy: "When in Rome...".

Sunday, April 1, 2007

In the Kitchen with Todd and Geoff

Before I get into the meat (ha!) of this post, I'd like to make a quick ancillary comment about the state of cinema today: "300" is possibly the most homoerotic movie I've ever seen. Geoff described it best as "an epic battle between RuPaul and a bunch of underwear models." It was pretty much two hours of impassioned speeches heralding immortal man-love punctuated by a thousand silhouette shots of spears thrusting through bodies. Made me realize I need to hit the gym more, but also caused me to question whether floor-length cloaks and bikini briefs are really the ideal battle garments. Oh well, see it for yourself, it was visually stunning and awesomely violent, and definitely fun for the whole family, provided the family comprises a bunch of people who like glistening Scottish dudes with really ripped abs killing each other. Anyway, food...

Right. Saturday night. Geoff and I left the movie a might peckish, and luckily our psychic bond with Todd has a 10-mile radius. Todd texted that he'd be cooking up a storm when we came over, so the Brown Bear and I hopped in the car and headed off to Food Source and the booze store for provisions. All we knew was that Todd was making chicken cacciatore in his Dutch oven. We scooped up some essentials (and by essentials I mean produce that we'd eventually figure out how to prepare and a bunch of sweet, sparkling wine).

Todd was cleaning the chicken when we arrived, so Geoff and I annexed the dining room table on behalf of the kitchen and got to work. Brown Bear cranked out some yummy bruschetta while we waited for the chicken to cook. I cleaned some sweet, crunchy carrots and tossed them in a 1:1 mixture of olive oil (wow, I can't believe I almost just wrote EVOO - somebody needs to slap the Food Network taste out of my mouth) and honey, with a generous grind of black pepper. After, I spread the cut-up carrots in a roasting pan and put them on the top shelf of the oven (above the bruschetta, for those of you keeping track of the menu) to roast for an indeterminate amount of time. The feast was simple, mostly because Todd did all the multi-step cooking.

I stood at the table, santoku in hand, as Todd threw me mushrooms, garlic, and whatever else needed to be sliced or diced. I love chopping food up - always have - it always seems so cathartic. Anyway, we listened to 80s music with "Mean Girls" playing on mute in the background as we cooked (which gives you an excellent picture of our usual Saturday nights, no doubt). The bruschetta was tasty - I love fresh oregano and I'm pretty sure I could just eat garlic and tomatoes if given the opportunity.

The time for chicken was nigh; I sauteed some asparagus in a quick grind of pepper, dash of salt, and about half a lemon's worth of juice. Todd prepared a pungent salad of arugula, fennel, oregano-cooked mushrooms, and a zesty lemon vinaigrette. Wow, I can't believe I just used "zesty" seriously...

Everything came together wonderfully - the slow-cooked chicken fell apart as we speared the meat, the asparagus and carrots complemented the cacciatore nicely, and the salad was crisp and delicious. All that was left, then, was a bit of dessert.

I had bought a bagful of yummy-looking pears earlier and a little snit of bourbon just in case (I mean, things come up, right?) of emergency. In a flash of [potential] brilliance, I decided that pears poached in a bourbon/caramel glaze would do the trick just nicely. I let the cut-up pears stew in some of our wonderfully sweet wine as the sugar and bourbon intermingled in melty nirvana in the adjacent pot. From there, I poured off the wine from the pears into the sauce and brought it to a boil, stirring like a madman to avoid a foamy, but sweet, mess. After a few minutes I poured mosted of the bourbon-sugar-wine sauce mixture back into the pears and poached them for about 15 minutes as I let the glaze sit. The pears cooked until tender, I served each of us a generous helping accompanied by a generous pour of the bourbon sauce. I'd say the dish turned out well, but would have really benefited from some vanilla ice cream (if only to prevent us from the inevitable 2nd degree mouth burns from the molten pear-bourbon-sugar).

All in all, a delicious meal, and certainly more fun in the making than if we had gone out. An excellent end to what turned out to be a busy, stressful week for all.