Sunday, May 23, 2010

Resurrection and Relocation

For various reasons, I'm consolidating this blog with my old blog and moving them both to another site. Please visit my new blog at


Monday, May 17, 2010

Curried Potato Pizza

 Potatoes and cheese, what could be better?

I've seen them in magazines and heard people talk about them with raptuous light in their eyes. On Thursday night, I decided to see what all the fuss was all about. I took the potato pizza plunge.

My previous exerience with potatoes has been limited to boiling, mashing, roasting, and parboiling followed by frying, so as I peeled and sliced, I pondered how to approach putting tubers on top of a pie. Since I don't have a mandoline, my slices weren't thin enough to just toss with oil and lay on top of the dough as I'd read about some pizzeria in Brooklyn doing. A concern about blandness led me to fry them in ghee and Indian spices to give them some zip.

And now, my friends, we come to the part where if you're scrolling down and looking for a recipe, you're going to be disappointed. I didn't write anything down. I could approximate the amounts for you, but that would be pure conjecture, and then if your potato pizza turned out horribly, and oh, say, you made it for company, and that magnified your disappointment, you'd hate me forever, and I just can't have that.

So I will tell you this: I fried the slices in a few tablespoons of ghee with a large amount of ground cumin, and lesser amounts of ground coriander, turmeric and nutmeg. Naturally, I didn't make a note of how hot the burner was or how long they were in there. I just made sure they didn't burn, turned them over a few times, and took them out when they were easy to pierce with a fork.

Cheese-wise, I used what I had on hand: panquehue, a very mild, buttery Chilean cheese. I cut it into little chunks and scattered it aound and under the potato slices, and it melted in an aesthetically pleasing way.

After about 12 minutes at 425 degrees, the pie was done. My pressing need for comfort food made it difficult to wait for it to cool enough to try, but the memory of pizza burns past made me patient. The crisp dough (I use a pizza stone) was a nice balance to the softness of the cheese and potatoes, and I definitely could have used more spices, but overall, it was a fine meal for a Thursday night. The hubs' feedback was that he couldn't taste the potatoes against the crust, so perhaps I'll try it with thicker slices next time.

Deliciousness: Not quite spicy enough for me, but crispy and satisfying. Once I put some Clancy's Fancy on top, it was just fine.

Difficulty: Moderate; I make my own dough, otherwise I'd say easy.

Do-over: Yes, but I'd like to get a mandoline and I'll definitely use sharper cheese and maybe some hot peppers, caramelized onions or salt-cured olives.

Details: Sorry, Charlie, I've already told you everything I can.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Pudding, Indian Style

Last week, I messed around with instant pudding, and since I once again had a slightly crazed week, I decided to take it easy on myself and make the other more or less instant dessert we had in the pantry: Brown & Polson custard. My husband has often spoken reverently of the custard his mother would make him every day using this mix; I suspect it's a fixture in many Indian and Indian expatriate homes, and I've long been curious about it.

Mmm, just like Amma used to make!

As background, B&P has been considered the go-to corn flour (corn starch, basically) since at least 1879, when this ad appeared. You can find it in most Indian groceries and international food stores; mine's been in my pantry since I moved in with my husband two and a half years ago.

My best guess is that his mother bought it during one of her intending to make it for him, but never did -- the package was sealed. Additionally, the nutrition facts sticker on the back was so stubbornly adhered to the box I had to peel it back in layers to get at the directions:
My favorite line: "Let it cool and your delicious custard is ready."

My first challenge was converting 500 ml to cups; I am most definitely a word girl first and a math girl last, and since I was making a childhood favorite of my husband's, I didn't want to take any chances. After using my phone to go online and triumphantly finding the answer (2 cups!) I noticed that my measuring cup lists ml on one side. Good to know for future tussles with metric conversions.

The powder itself is extremely fine and velvety, pale yellow with orange flecks in it, and smells like artificial vanilla, but only if you get up close. The ingredients are corn flour, flavoring, and coloring agents (reassuringly, the box says they are "allowable" coloring agents). It mixed into the milk easily, with no lumps whatsoever, and turned it an appealing shade of saffron. 

Before long I had a lava-hot batch of viscous, vanilla-scented golden yellow goodness cooling on the counter. An hour later I spooned some into a dish and gave it to my husband, who took care of in about a minute flat. He actually drank most of it, as this is "free-flowing" custard -- slightly thicker than creme anglaise. I asked him if it was comparable to what his mom used to make. In between gulps, he said it was.

Deliciousness: If you like the center of custard-filled donuts and wish it were sweeter and not so thick, you will love this custard. Compared to last week's effort, this tastes much richer and thicker -- but I also used 2% milk this time.

Difficulty: I'm starting to think I should do away with this category.

Do-Over: Most definitely; it's easy, tasty, and makes my husband happy. I might try to make it thicker next time, and/or use a bit less sugar.


2 T. custard powder
2 cups milk, divided
3 heaping T. sugar

1. Get ye to an Indian grocery and pick up a box of Brown & Polson custard powder (vanilla flavour).
2. Mix the powder with 1/4 of the milk and set aside.
3. In a saucepan, heat remaining milk with sugar, almost to the boil. Add the powder mixture, lower the heat to prevent boiling, and cook 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Cool before eating.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Tonight: vanilla pudding, plus a special guest.

Perhaps you recall the movie “Mermaids” with Cher, Winona Ryder, Bob Hoskins and a very young Christina Ricci. And if you do, maybe you remember that one of Ryder’s character’s chief complaints about her mother was that her dinners were nothing but long strings of bite-sized hors d’ouvres. (This, for the record, was a gripe I could not relate to. At all.)

The scenes of Cher’s trays of artfully assembled tidbits came to mind as I made myself a late dinner on Saturday night; goat cheese on tiny toasts, eensy sweet-hot peppers from Culinaria’s olive bar, leisurely mouthfuls of microwave popcorn.

But I am one of those people who also needs, or more precisely craves, something sweet at the end of a meal. Meanwhile, I am trying to be more conscious of what I put in my body, calorically speaking, and so lately my need for sweetness has been fulfilled by smaller bits of satisfaction. Minute hunks of dark chocolate are a perennial favorite, but sometimes I want something more satisfying, something I can really sit down with.

I was more or less pacing the kitchen when I remembered the box of instant vanilla pudding I’d picked up at Trader Joe’s. It had been somewhat of a whim, but I’d also wanted to see if it would satisfy my husband’s never-ending craving for bland sweets.

As I was making it, and I use the verb “make” loosely, I hit on the idea of throwing some ground cardamom in half of it. Only half, because historically, my husband is so devoted to the idea of vanilla as a flavor that I assumed he wouldn’t go for the cardamom thing (I was right).

If you’ve had Indian rice pudding (kheer) it’s probably had cardamom in it; its flowery, anise-tinged flavor makes it a natural friend to milk. Most international groceries will have it, and I haven’t looked, but some of your fancier groceries might, too.

Rather shocked by the country of origin.

Ten minutes after my craving for a dessert I could spend some time with, I was covering four lovely little footed ‘60s dessert cups with bits of plastic wrap. Later, it occurred to me that this pudding was edible proof that a modern invention had the power to improve my life – if only for as long as it took to unwrap and empty a dish.
Deliciousness: Not crazy about the bubbly, loose texture, but that’s probably a function of the skim milk. The cardamom, however, was great.

Difficulty: I won’t even dignify that with a response.

Do-Over: Probably, at some point, after I take a stab at the Brown & Paulsen’s custard powder I have in the pantry.

1 Packet Trader Joe’s instant vanilla pudding

2 cups milk

2 pinches ground cardamom (optional)

Whisk, chill, enjoy, divide into individual dishes if you like.

Put it in a bowl, you'll enjoy it more!