Monday, December 24, 2007

The Christmas Post that's really about Thanksgiving and Hanukkah

Wow - Kathryn, the kitchen looks so cute, and those latkes look really amazing. I also tried to spread Hanukkah (and Thanksgiving) joy to my friends with my holiday fusion party called Thanksgivingkah. These two holidays are my favorite - perhaps because they both involve eating autumnal and fried foods. Since I had not had a proper chance to celebrate them in London, having this party was the perfect excuse to embark on a cooking project and get all my old high school friends together.

You probably can't tell from looking at this photo, but half of guests had reached the legal drinking age. I think they are pretending to gobble up all the food. We also ended up playing dreidel with pennies - we are so classy.

And to all those doubters out there, a vegetarian thanksgiving feast is not an oxymoron. The stuffing and the vegetable side dishes, are definitely the best part of any Thanksgiving meal, so what's with all the hooplah over flavorless turkey? Anyways, here is my answer to a vegetarian thanksgiving:

Carrot Soup with Almonds and Lime 
Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad (from Orangette)
Chevre and Carmelized Onion Frittata
Garlic Green Beans

But the real shows stopper was this pumpkin pie. I settled on and adapted this recipe from America's Test Kitchen's Best New Recipes. This might have been the most labor intensive pie that I have ever made - it involved pre-baking the pie crust, processing the pumpkin, and cooking the custard over the stove - but, the filling was so creamy, and so worth all of the extra steps. The Test Kitchen explains that the secret to a perfect pumpkin pie is to transfer a hot filling into a freshly pre-baked pie crust, so that the filling cooks evenly.


1 homemade or pre-made pie crust

1 15 oz. plain canned pumpkin

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

2 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 tsp. ground ginger

1 tsp. ground nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/2 tsp. salt

2/3 cup heavy cream

2/3 cup milk

4 large eggs

Roll out pie crust unto a pie dish, and place a sheet of aluminum foil over the top, along with a layer of coins, which will weigh down the crust as it bakes in 375 degree oven for about 20-22 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil from the top, and continue baking pie until it is lightly golden brown (about 5 minutes). Take out the crust when it is done, and turn the oven temperature up to 400 degrees

As the crust bakes, start making the filling. In a medium-sized-heavy-bottomed-saucepan, add the pumpkin, the sugar, salt, and the spices, and process with an immersion blender for a couple of minutes. Heat the mixture until it is thick and shiny, while stirring it constantly. Slowly add the cream and milk, and whisk to combine. Crack and beat the eggs in a separate bowl. Take the saucepan off the heat and temper the eggs by whisking in a little bit of the hot pumpkin mixture to the eggs to bring them up to temperature. With slow care, add the egg mixture to the pumpkin, and whisk vigorously. Immediately add the filling to the hot pie crust, and bake in the oven for 25 minutes.

Let cool, and either eat the whole by yourself (I will not judge you at all for doing this), or wait for your friends to help you finish it off. My friend who has celiac disease, and thus could only eat the filling, ending up fighting with my other friend for the last slice and for possession of the whipped cream bowl (again, I really can't believe we are juniors...)

I didn't end up with much in the way of leftovers, which was good because my family and I are off to Florida tomorrow morning. I'm signing off, and finishing packing.

Have a Merry Christmas Kathryn, and have a Happy New Year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sweet Potato Latkes

Ah, home at last. Even though my first week back in Oklahoma was ridiculously hectic, I did get some time to cook. I made some banana bread, a delicious wilted spinach salad, and some gourmet Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies. But the project I was most excited for were the Sweet Potato Latkes from!

These latkes were everything I want in a cooking adventure: semi-complicated, kind of dangerous (what with the frying and all), yet ultimately unpretentious and delicious.

First, of course, I had to set the mood (choose what to watch on TV while I cooked). What better reintroduction to American culture than a marathon of My Super Sweet Sixteen on MTV?

With my entertainment taken care of, I was ready to dive in! But first, I needed to take a moment and appreciate the vast, VAST difference between our kitchen in London and my parents' kitchen.

Isn't it beautiful?

Curried Sweet Potato Latkes


1 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
2 tsp. curry powder
1 tsp. cumin
salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
2 lg. eggs, beaten
1/2 c. milk
peanut oil for frying (about 1/2 cup)

We had everything on hand except for the sweet potatoes and peanut oil. Also, notice that, mysteriously, the only way I could buy sweet potatoes at Super Target was individually wrapped in plastic! Apparently you're supposed to microwave them in the plastic for the "perfect taste." Um, okay.

So, first I peeled the sweet potatoes (this might have been the hardest part of the whole recipe):

Next, I grated the potatoes. I was about to do this by hand when my mother, passing through the kitchen, made the brilliant suggestion that i use the food processor. Oh My God we have a food processor! THINGS ARE SO EASY HERE.

Aren't they pretty? Next, I mixed together the flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, cayenne pepper, curry powder, cumin and salt and pepper in a separate bowl. Next time I make these, I'll probably add more curry powder, cayenne pepper, and salt at this point, and maybe even a dash or two of tobasco to the finished batter. While the latkes turned out well, they weren't quite exciting enough, and I think ramping up the spices would do the trick.

Next, I added eggs and just a splash of milk to the dry ingredients to get a "stiff batter":

Then, I added the potatoes and mixed it all together. The batter should be moist but not too runny--you can add a little more milk if it seems to stiff at this point:

Now for the exciting part--frying! This was the first time I'd really fried something, and it was a thrilling experience. Heat 1/4 inch of peanut oil in a frying pan (I used a heavy cast-iron skillet) until barely smoking. Drop the batter in by tablespoons (I found the most efficient way to do this was to use one tablespoon to scoop the batter up, and another tablespoon to push the batter off into the oil). Flatten, and fry over medium-high heat several minutes on each side until golden. I ended up lessening the heat to medium-low because my latkes were burning too quickly on the outside. I'm sure the perfect temperature varies a lot depending on your stove.

Then, drain the latkes on paper towels on serve!

I was lucky to get a photo because these were gobbled up pretty quickly--they were good! They weren't quite great, though--I bet with they would be, though, with a little more salt and spice. We ate them with applesauce, although I bet a coconut-sour cream sauce would be really good with them, too.

Now, back to the cleaning, packing, and baking--I may have a Christmas cookie post up before too long!

Friday, December 14, 2007

"Toto, I don't think I'm in London anymore..."

As you can tell by the early hour that I am posting this, I am back in the States and experiencing jet lag.  I am all a flurry with emotions - happy to be back and see snow outside my window, a little self-righteously peeved to see the SUVs driving about, relieved to have a well stocked kitchen, but yes, a little nostalgic for good old flat 20 in London.   

We cooked some charming meals in that little humble kitchen.  I think when we were at our finest was our last real meal, when we ransacked everything in our fridge and put it in a casserole dish.  It went by many titles -rustic bread pudding, pizza mush, Giada's Italian surprise, but above all it was delicious.  

Everything but the kitchen sink savoury bread pudding:
half a loaf of old, hardened, crusty bread 
ideally 4-5 eggs (we only had 3)
half a carton of plain yogurt
leftover tomato sauce
half an onion, chopped
all the remainders from the ten million pesto jars in our refrigerator
give or take a pint of milk (thanks Harsha, for letting us steal the last of your milk)
cayenne pepper
CHEESE (we didn't have a lot left in our, but this would have made our bread pudding even more delicious)

Tear bread and place in a baking dish.  Add all the wet ingredients, the onion, and the seasonings into a bowl, stir, and pour into the bread mixture until every piece of bread is coated.  Steal more milk if you think you need more liquid.  Top the bread pudding with grated cheese and pats of butter, and bake until golden brown in a 350 degree oven (about, 175 degrees Celsius).   

So, hopefully all of you out there will not be down on your luck, and have these ingredients be the only edible contents in your refrigerator... but true classy students can always make something out of nothing.  

Cheers Kathryn,  I'm missing you already.  

Welcome to the Hallway

Some cooking blogs are really classy... full of beautiful photographs of delicious food, and ingenious, original recipes.

This is not that cooking blog.

Oh, make no doubt about it: we're very classy. However, my dear friend Allison and I are held back by our situation: we are college students. For the last four months we've been living in London, where the only thing more expensive than good groceries is real estate. Furthermore, we've been cooking in the world's tiniest kitchen:

We learned to cope with numerous difficulties: no counter space, no storage space, a refrigerator that is half taken over by ice crystals (Allison says, "It's more of an ice block!"), that then melted and flooded the bottom of the refrigerator with water.

At one point, the overhead light in our kitchen (which was already dim), burned out completely. It took a couple of weeks to replace it, and in the interim we had to bring a lamp into the kitchen so we could see. Unfortunately, the lamp took over the only available electrical outlet, which led to the invention of hallway toast:

While hallway toast is genius in concept, it is slightly less genius in practice--especially when your building is equipped with extremely sensitive smoke alarms. One late-night toast-making session may or may not have led to our entire building being evacuated out into the rain and cold.

Despite all these setbacks, Allison and I (amazingly) are still friends. And we even managed to cook some pretty delicious things in our crappy kitchen!

We've come to rely on basic dishes that satisfy us and our five meat-eating flatmates. Some of our favorite successes include pasta with homemade vodka sauce, eggplant parmesan, Thai curry with tofu (even though tofu is mysteriously difficult to buy in central London), and a particularly lovely sweet potato coconut soup (I may be biased--I made that one). Some nights, though, we just had to give up on pleasing our meat-eating friends and return to our favorite foods--which led an earthy and simple white bean and kale soup. Our flatmates retaliated and cooked sausage.

Even though we've had a lot of fun cooking this semester, we've also had (more than) our fair share of disasters. To start with, there was the time we tried to make rice in the oven due to a lack of available stove space. Um... it was a little crunchy. As I mentioned earlier, our fire alarm was a recurrent enemy. And the lack of counter space led to plastic bags of bread getting set down on hot stove burners... and then melting.

Now Allison and I are getting ready to head home to the U.S.--Iowa and Oklahoma, respectively. Although we'll miss London--and each other!--there are some things I can't wait for: huge American grocery stores, readily-available tofu (even in Oklahoma!), and cooking in my parents' huge, wonderful, amazing kitchen (well, after the kitchen in this flat, any other kitchen will probably seem amazing!). There are five weeks until Allison and I will be back at school and can cook together again, and in the meantime we hope to keep in touch and share recipes in this blog.

Always remember: there's nothing classier than making toast in the hallway.