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Formula One

Cooking is an art, not a science. It’s important when cooking not to get wrapped up in the measuring spoons and cups. Use recipes as your guide to creating food that YOU like to eat. I’ve decided to present a few formulas that allow a ridiculously huge amount of variation. Today’s formula is for quiche.

A short history of quiche (from foodreference.com):

“Although quiche is now a classic dish of French cuisine, quiche actually originated in Germany, in the medieval kingdom of Lothringen, under German rule, and which the French later renamed Lorraine. The word ‘quiche’ is from the German ‘Kuchen’, meaning cake.

“The original ‘quiche Lorraine’ was an open pie with a filling consisting of an egg and cream custard with smoked bacon. It was only later that cheese was added to the quiche Lorraine.  Add onions and you have quiche Alsacienne.  The bottom crust was originally made from bread dough, but that has long since evolved into a short-crust or puff pastry crust.”

Quiche can be ridiculously cliche and dated, but you can make one from anything you like. Tailor it to YOUR taste preferences. Quiche with broccoli and cheddar? Sure! What about quiche with poached shrimp and dill havarti? Sure! Quiche with andouille, crayfish and okra? Why not? (although I would say eww to the okra) Quiche with leftover Chinese food and monterey jack? Yes! These variations could potentially create a year’s worth of meals, although I suspect most of you would get sick of quiche long before then.

Let me explain food formulas. Each part of the formula has to be present for the recipe to work. However, the amounts are very flexible and the flavors can be completely yours. The only real requirement is that your crust be raw and your meat and most vegetables cooked (chopped scallions and shredded carrots can be raw). You don’t have to cook fresh herbs ahead of time, either.

Oh, um, one word of advice – don’t try to make a quiche with cucumber. The end product is totally gross. (Not that I’ve ever done that, I mean…)


#1 – Crust, uncooked

Your crust can be any kind of crust. Your grandmother’s recipe, your favorite pie crust, a nut crust, a cream cheese crust, a short crust, an herb crust, a Pillsbury store-bought crust: all will work. Whether the crust made with butter, margarine, Crisco, or cheese is irrelevant. I wouldn’t use puff pastry or graham cracker crusts, but anything else should work just fine. Put it in an 8″ or 9″ pie pan or tart pan with a removable bottom. One note of caution – don’t stretch your crust to fit in the pie or tart pan. A stretched crust will always shrink back to its original size, leaving you with very goofy looking edges. If it doesn’t fit, take it out and roll it thinner or get a smaller pie pan.

#2 – Cheese

You can get super-creative here. Use shredded or sliced cheese, queso fresco, sharp cheddar, dill havarti, swiss, or horseradish cheddar. The idea is to put a layer of cheese between the filling and eggs and the crust. It will prevent the crust from getting soggy. If you use shredded cheese, use at least 1.5 cups. If you want to use slices, make sure the bottom of the pie is completely covered with about 1/4″ of cheese slices (it’s fine – good even – if the cheese migrates up the sides). You can even use ricotta or cottage cheese. I would strongly suggest that you drain them in a colander or cheesecloth until all the excess liquid is gone. Then just spread about a cup in an even layer on the bottom of the crust. Although I’ve never done it, I bet cream cheese would work, too. Make sure to bring it to room temperature before trying to spread it, though.

#3 – Lumps

A lot of people look at me crooked when I talk about adding lumps to things. I add lumps to cookies (chocolate chips, chopped nuts, dried fruits, coconut, etc.), so why not use the same term to describe what goes into a quiche? Lumps are anything that you want in your quiche. You’ll need roughly 2 cups. Consider chicken, leftover taco meat, zucchini, shredded carrots, shrimp, black beans, pineapple, fresh herbs, scallions, onions, crab, ANYTHING that will serve as the taste focus of your quiche. Remember, meat should be cooked. You can even use leftover Chinese or Thai or Mexican food! It’s a great use for your leftover St. Patrick’s Day dinner. Just chop everything up into bite sized pieces and throw it in! Any leftovers that have a sauce should be drained well before putting in (remember we want to keep our bottom crust as dry [and therefore flaky] as possible). If you put 2 cups on top of your cheese and it looks pathetically sparse, add more. Just don’t let your lumps go higher than your crust or you run the risk of burning them in the oven.

#4 – Custard

This is the easiest part. You will need 1 egg per 1/3 cup milk, cream, or half & half. An 8″ – 9″ pie will need 4 eggs and 1-1/3 cups liquid. This is where you add your spices (salt, pepper, dill, oregano, thyme, whatever floats your boat). Just mix them in with the eggs and milk/cream. However, if you’re like me and really like the lumpy part of the quiche, you may only need 3 eggs and 1 cup cream/milk. Mix the eggs, milk and spices together and gently pour over the pie. It should flow nicely into all the empty places in your quiche. Once the custard is in, the quiche is ready to go in the oven. 350F for an hour. The quiche will puff (and maybe crack, depending on the fat content of your dairy – it’s OK). A knife inserted near the center should come out clean, and there should be no jiggle when you move the pie pan.

So, that’s it! A super-easy way to use leftover bits from your fridge. A little hunk each of brie, mozzarella and gouda? A handful of dried cranberries, some ham and leftover steamed broccoli? A dish fit for a king! Give it a fancy name and serve it up proudly with some crusty bread and a salad.


The basic directions are:

  1. Place crust in a 8-9″ pie pan or 9-10″ tart pan with removable bottom.
  2. Place cheese in pan to coat bottom. Start with 1.5 cups and increase from there. When it melts it becomes the moisture barrier that keeps your crust from getting soggy.
  3. Place lumps in even layer on top of cheese. Start with 2 cups and adjust from there.
  4. Pour custard with spices in it over top. Start with 4 eggs and 1-1/3 cups liquid dairy of some sort.
  5. Bake at 350F for an hour. It will puff, the crust will become golden, the custard will not jiggle and a knife inserted near the center will come out clean.

Bon appetit!

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Glucona Delta Lactone

A few weeks ago, I bought a Little Caesar whole wheat pizza kit to keep in the freezer for when I need a quick meal and don’t have the extra hour to make dough. It seemed a good deal – $17.50 for 3 pizzas. Three crusts, three bags of cheese and three bags of tomato sauce. I decided to work one into my meals this week, as it’s going to be a crazy busy week and my husband has to make his own dinner one night. Pepperoni pizza on a whole wheat crust sounded good.

I make my own pizza dough most of the time. It contains water, flour, salt, yeast and oil. Sometimes I use two different flours to make it more interesting. On a whim, I checked the ingredients on the back of the box and Little Caesar’s pizza crust contains 20 ingredients. TWENTY!! AUGH!!!!! What in Heaven’s name could possibly be in the crust? Here’s their ingredient list:

“Whole Wheat Flour, Water, Invert Sugar, Honey, Vegetable Oil (Soybean Oil, Soy Lecithin), Yeast, Glucona Delta Lactone, Salt, Baking Soda, Cellulose Gum, Sodium Propionate (Preservative), Food Starch-Modified, Corn Syrup Solids, Vital Wheat Gluten, Dough Conditioners (L-Cysteine, Ascorbic Acid, Enzymes), Natural and Artificial Flavors.”

Let’s break this down… Whole wheat flour – check. Water, oil, yeast, salt – check. I would let the honey slide because that’s food for the yeast, so – check. Invert sugar? I know it’s a mixture of glucose and fructose, is sweeter than “regular” sugar and is used probably to sweeten and help the crust stay moist. I see another sweetener, too – corn syrup solids. Not wanting to open the corn syrup can of worms, I’ll just say – Gee Whiz! – three sweeteners in one crust! I find that fascinating…

Soy lecithin is a sketchy addition. It’s a stabilizer for all sorts of foods, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, textiles, paint, as well as for personal lubricants and waxes. However, I don’t see why a product as simple as pizza crust needs one. Not loving that item. Glucona delta lactone – what the….? After some research, I found that GDL functions as a leavening agent in products that don’t have yeast. This crust has yeast. It also has baking soda, which I don’t understand the need for either. We have THREE leavening agents, so this is going to be one puffy crust!

On to cellulose gum. Cellulose gum is used as a stabilizer for dough products. It comes from – get this – trees and cotton. So Rick’s either going to be eating tree innards or his jeans. We have another stabilizer, don’t forget – our friend soy lecithin. Oh wait, we also have modified food starch. Hmmm. Three sweeteners, three stabilizers, three leavening agents, three crusts, three cheeses, three sauces… Sounds like somebody at Little Caesar’s might have OCD issues…

Ah, one of my favorite topics – preservatives. Sodium propionate is a mold inhibitor. It’s found in chicken feed, cervical creams and topical anti-fungal preparations. Interestingly, it is used in food products that DON’T use yeast as their leavening agent, because calcium propionate interferes with the leavening action of, say, baking soda and our friend GDL. Therefore, if we didn’t have them in our crust and only used yeast, we wouldn’t need the sodium propionate.

Vital wheat gluten. I can understand this one to a certain extent. It strengthens the gluten naturally found in the wheat flour, giving the crust a chewier texture. The stronger gluten then traps the waste from the yeast, resulting in a higher rise. While I find that my crust is just fine without it, I have added it to rye flour to make my rye bread less dense. I’ll let this one slide.

Two of our dough conditioners, Ascorbic acid (aka Vitamin C) and Enzymes are innocuous. Sure, throw in some vitamin C and enzymes. Make it a softer dough and help me digest it. Why not? But L-cysteine? Really? L-cysteine is a non-essential amino acid. That means that our bodies make it. If my body makes it already, why is it being added to my food? Oh, wait! I forgot our rule of three – three conditioners, three sweeteners, three stabilizers, three leavening agents, three crusts, three cheeses, three sauces. What was I thinking?

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On Being Irish – a slightly disjointed post written during a ridiculously busy week

A valley in County Roscommon

Yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day. Did everyone have their green clothing on? Were your shillalies all lined up and ready to be swung last night? Can you say “Pog mo thoin!” or “Ta mo bhriste tri thine!”?

Saint Patrick’s Day is a special day for me. I love to celebrate the culture that makes up one-quarter of my ethnic heritage. I feel a mysterious connection to this ancient place, as though my family never really left it at all. I have cousins there, but I’ve never visited Ireland – my sister has. Whenever I see pictures of the enchanted forests or the sheer, fenceless Cliffs of Moher, I am touched in a place deep in my soul. I can’t really explain the feeling.

Our family hails from County Roscommon, and in the late 19th century, an intrepid lad named James Cooney came over, passing through Ellis Island. His son Edward met and married a German spitfire named Cecelia Roth. After many shenanigans (some legal, some not), along came the brothers Patrick and Edward, my father and uncle. Perhaps because my family is so recently removed from Irish soil explains some of the connection I feel with it. I envy my sister her recent opportunity to go and walk a cliffside trail, smell the Irish air and drink a pint at a local pub while listening to musicians play. Hopefully, someday I’ll be able to do the same.

















I feel somewhat ashamed that, having played the harp for 38 years, I cannot play a single Irish tune. Not one. I don’t know any Irish songs, just some ridiculous Americanized ones. There are no Irish recipes in my collection, although I do possess an Irish cookbook. It was a gift from Edmund Power, tenor and good friend.

Driving home from dinner Wednesday night, I was enveloped in a fine mist for the last 10 miles of my journey. I opened the windows and breathed deeply. I imagined that this was the mist in the Irish forests. It felt pregnant and mysterious, as though faeries would flit across my path at any moment. They probably did, but my headlights didn’t pick them up.

Speaking of the faeries, there are some clusters of mushrooms on our property.

I check them every now and again to see if a circle has formed and the faeries have come to live on our land. They would like it here. We are honest and kind people. We love beyond what is prudent, we give beyond what is wise, we hope beyond what logic tells us we should. In short, we are Irish.

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It seems sort of obscene to be talking about luxuries in this day and age. Money is so tight that I use half sheets in the dryer, preferring to dry on the clothesline if weather permits. I plan weekly meals so I buy as little as possible and haven’t bought new underwear in a dog’s age. (I just realized the other day that one of the dresses I wear to work was the very same dress I wore when I was pregnant!) I can only IMAGINE the financial hit next year with college bills in our mailbox.

Still, I manage to sneak in a few little luxuries that make the scrimping and saving bearable. Not luxuries like caviar and white truffles, or eating out at the CIA, or buying a new wardrobe every season, but more reasonable splurges that just make me smile. I wanted to share them with you.

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Kessman Farms Jam

Hands down the best jam I ever tasted, except for the jam my mother-in-law made one year when she got fresh peaches. This jam, made by Kessman Farms in Pawling, NY, runs $6 – 8 per jar, but is well worth the splurge. It is FULL of fruit, not too thick, not too runny, and has a summer flavor so sweet that you weep to eat it in winter. Our favorite varieties are peach, apricot, strawberry, seedless red raspberry (shown) and the venerable Triple Crown (strawberry, raspberry and cherry all together in one ridiculously delicious jam). A thick slice of fresh oat toast, a smear of salted butter and a generous helping of jam. What is more seductive than that?

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Irish Mist

My girlfriend Cat will probably agree with me when I say that Irish Mist is yummy. She’s an Irish lass and has actually been to Ireland, and I am only partially of Irish descent and have never been. However, this liqueur sings to the Irish blood in my veins in a way that reels and harps don’t. OK, that was a really lame statement. It doesn’t sing to anything in my blood – it simply tastes good and makes me glad to claim Irish ancestry. It’s herby and sweet and scotchy and did I mention that it tastes good? A bottle sets me back $35, but it feels worth it somehow.

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Goat Curry at the West Indies Cafe

Three times I have had the opportunity to go to a little place on Main Street on the way to the Poughkeepsie train station. It’s called the West Indies Cafe and it’s a humble little place with chipped, mismatched formica tables, plastic chairs and divine food. Their cooking is Jamaican/West Indian and includes curries, jerks and such humble dishes as oxtail and cow foot. Twice I have gotten the goat curry. It is humble, spicy, boney, full of long-cooked love and is oh-so-tender. There’s just enough fat to make it taste sublime with the spices and lean meat. You can get it with rice, greens, plantains, cabbage, mac and cheese or beans in a styrofoam container. It’s not expensive – less than $10 for a large portion, but it has such a wonderful, exotic flavor profile that I consider it a true splurge. It’s the kind of food I would cook if I knew how.

And now a shameless plug… Visit http://westindiesrestaurant.com/ for more information. You’ll be glad you did!

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I wish there was a market around here that sold halva like in this picture. Louise is going to Turkey in about a month and will have the opportunity to eat fresh halva in every variety. She will be able to taste cherry, pistachio, chocolate, almond; every variety under the sun. I envy that opportunity.

OK, I’ll back up. What is halva (or halvah)? It is a subtle, sweet “candy” made from sesame seeds and sugar. There are varieties in the Middle East and into India, but it’s all basically a slightly dry, crumbly sweet that could be classified as a candy, or maybe not. In American grocery stores, you might find a version of halva at the deli counter that has egg whites in it. RUN in the opposite direction! The best halva is an incredibly simple product, super tasty in its simplicity. It costs about $5 for a few ounces, but the occasional splurge is worth it. We get it a few times a year at Hannaford in Pawling (in the Asian food section) and start eating it as soon as we get in the car and get our seatbelts buckled. What a treat!

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Pampered Chef Stoneware

There are 6 pieces of PC stoneware in my house. One loaf pan, the rectangular baker in the photo, a large, flat rectangular baker for bar cookies, a small round, a large round, and a pizza stone. They were hideously expensive when I bought them years ago. Each piece is between 20 and 40 dollars. However, they are the BEST items to cook in if you want to make something with a crispy crust. The rounds are what I use to make crispy Gujarat cabbage, the loaf is the go-to meatloaf pan, the rectangular baker is my all-purpose pan (I use that more than any other). I make bar cookies in the baker (especially great for lemon bars) and pizza, calzones and stromboli all develop a magical crust on the pizza stone (as long as you heat it up in the oven for 30 minutes prior to baking). The cost of them is ridiculous. However, given the results and the lifetime guarantee, they are well worth it.

Speaking of Pampered Chef, if you’re in the market for a garlic press, get it from them. Best garlic press I ever bought or was given. Ever!

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So there are some luxuries that I allow myself. Please share yours if you feel so inclined.


TV? Pshaw!

I could live without TV. Really. It’s not a huge influence on my life. As a matter of fact, there are 2 TVs in our house and I think that’s one too many. I don’t even watch the news because most of it is biased. Seriously, who really cares about Charlie Sheen, Lady Gaga, Judge Judy and Snookie? None of them are high on my list of priorities. Life is far too short to bother with crap like that (and yes, I said crap, which is what is mostly on these days).

Even though I’m not a huge fan, I do tape a few shows and watch them whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Big Bang Theory is a witty comedy about geeks. The characters are ridiculously socially inept, but have managed to remain friends in a world that includes particle accelerators, comic books and a ditzy neighbor named Penny.

I tape American Idol because I like to see how the talent develops (or doesn’t develop) in the pressure cooker of live TV. Although I do fast forward through the hokey group numbers, anything to do with the Beatles, and the contestants who turn beautiful songs into tonsil-exposing power ballads, this show reminds me of my own music competition past. I was a good musician but a terrible competitor, and always resented the fact that I was judged based on one effort – it’s very unlike the more forgiving recording industry, which is why it fascinates me (although I still think Adam Lambert got stiffed last season).








The third show I tape is Chopped. Chopped is a Food Network show, and I LOVE it. The host is Ted Allen, who used to be on Bravo’s Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (another show I thought was fun).

Each week, four professional chefs are presented with a basket full of 3 or 4 seemingly unrelated ingredients (for example: beef liver, pound cake, mango and pressed, fermented fish cake). They have 30 minutes to cook an appetizer. The appetizers are judged based on taste, creativity and presentation. At the end of the appetizer round, one chef is eliminated and the remaining three go on to the entree with a new basket. After that round, one is eliminated, the final two cook through the dessert round, and a $10,000 prize is given at the end.

Talk about thinking on your feet and using your creativity! It’s a complete blast to see a chef take gummy bears, egg roll wrappers and kiwis and make gummy wontons. There’s not a show goes by that doesn’t amaze me with the inventive twists on ingredients. Sometimes the chefs forget to put an ingredient on the plate. Maybe their dish was really, really good, but they ran out of time and left the grape jelly gravy in the pan. Unfortunately, they are summarily “chopped”. Bummer. This show really works for me because it inspires me to look at the food in my fridge, freezer and pantry and say, “Hey, I could make…” I look at what I have in a new light. There is no combination that “won’t” work, and there is now a use for all those odd ingredients I have collected (banana ketchup, anyone?).

Right now, Chopped is having a $50,000 competition that puts the Chopped judges and other Food Network luminaries in the hot seat. I can’t wait to see what twisted, difficult baskets the judges are given. Let’s see THEM turn frankfurters, chocolate and canned peas into a dessert. Tune in – this is going to be a hoot!

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My Favorite Books

95, 96, 97, 98, 99… Believe it or not, that’s the number of cookbooks in my house. 99. They run the gamut from cajun to seafood to Indian to general. Some are VERY specialized (like Gordon Grimsdale’s Book of Sauces), and some have every recipe your grandmother made (Culinary Arts Institute Encyclopedic Cookbook originally published in 1948). Since I read cookbooks like novels (front to back, marking the pages with PostIts as I go), it seemed like a good idea to share my favorites with you – let’s call it Coleen’s Book Club. These books are the ones I refer back to time and time again, the ones that have stains in them, dog-eared pages and torn spines. To be sure, I have some favorite recipes in each one of them, but mostly use them as inspiration for my own creations. Check them out!

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The American Vegetarian Cookbook by Marilyn Diamond

This book is my go-to book for inspiration for fresh cooking. My first introduction to the Diamonds was when I read Fit for Life in the 1980s. Their philosophy was that one should have only ONE concentrated food at each meal, and this cookbook backs that up. It is a great reference book for cooking grains and vegetables. The recipes are simple, delicious and packed with flavor. Having said that – stay away from the blended salad on page 142. Disgusting!

My favorite salad dressing is in here (pg. 124), the basic “cream” soup recipe I use all the time (pg. 191), and Louise’s favorite hummus recipe (pg. 131). Here is that hummus recipe. As the Barefoot Contessa says, “How easy is THAT?”

Linda’s Delicious Hummus

2-3 T olive oil

juice of 1 lemon (3-4 T)

1 medium garlic clove

1/4 cup tahini

17 oz jar or 15 oz. can of garbanzo beans, drained

Measure olive oil and lemon juice into blender or food processor. Add garlic and tahini and blend until smooth. Add beans and blend until mixture is creamy. (Note – I drop the garlic into a running food processor to turn it into little chunks before I add the other ingredients.)

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A Little German Cookbook by Gertrude Philipine Matthes

This is my go-to book for our Oktoberfests, or whenever Rick is in a wurst mood. It’s a teeny tiny little book (4×5 inches with only 60 pages including the table-of-contents and index), but has nearly every traditional recipe you need. Spaetzle, pork roast, cabbage dishes, sauerbraten, applecake. Yum! Hundreds of people have eaten the food out of this little book – I’ve certainly gotten my money’s worth!

Here’s a twist on Sauerkraut (pg. 30) that you might find intriguing…


1 lb. can or jar of sauerkraut (use the refrigerated bag if you can find it)

1 small onion, diced

3 slices of bacon, chopped

2 tsp. oil

1 small apple, diced (peel still on)

1 carrot, peeled and grated

1 peeled potato, grated

salt and pepper

water (about 1 cup)

Drain and rinse sauerkraut thoroughly. Fry the bacon and onion in oil until bacon is crisp. Add sauerkraut, apple, carrot and potato. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with water and boil for an hour. (Note – The recipe originally called for uncooked sauerkraut. However, we can only find cooked kraut here, so reduce the cooking time to 15 or 20 minutes or so.)

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International Meatless Cookbook by Jean Hewitt

This is a funny cookbook. It says it’s meatless, but includes chicken and fish recipes, as though their flesh wasn’t meat. Interestingly enough, I use the chicken recipes in here a LOT. The chicken section includes such standards as Brunswick Stew, Sancocho, Tagine, Marengo, Coq au Vin, Cacciatore, Paprikash, Normandy, Chicken and Dumplings, Mole, Scarpariello, Arroz con Pollo, Kiev, Parmigiana, Florentine, Provencal, Chausseur, Vindaloo, Chicken with Snow Peas, Sukiyaki, Scaloppini, Tandoori, Satay, and Teriyaki. It’s a GREAT chicken reference book!

It’s also a great book for soups and appetizers. This recipe (pg. 47) is, indeed, meatless. It’s my go-to hot summer day soup.

Chilled Cucumber Soup (Turkish)

2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped

2 cloves garlic, crushed

16 oz. yogurt (use full fat if you can find it)

8 oz. sour cream

2 T snipped fresh dill

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup chopped walnuts and dill sprigs for garnish, optional

Put the cucumber, garlic, yogurt, sour cream and dill in the container of a blender or food processor. Whirl until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill. To serve, put a T of walnuts in each of four bowls and pour soup over. Garnish will dill. (Note – I never use the walnuts. This soup is best served a day after it is made.)

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Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni

This is the book that changed everything in my kitchen. The more recipes I made out of here, the more I wanted to learn about Indian cooking. The more I wanted to learn, the more spices I bought, and the more versed I became with Indian ingredients. This book is a MUST if you are interested in learning how to cook Indian food. There are sections on cooking techniques used, chapters on spices, herbs and seasonings, and on planning and serving Indian foods. Then the recipes – oh my, the recipes. Some of my favorites are Fish in Velvet Yogurt Sauce (pg. 253), Chickpeas in Ginger Sauce (pg. 274), Cumin and Turmeric Rice (pg. 364) and the following recipe, Masala Dal (pg. 330).

Masala Dal (Spice and Herb laced split peas)

1 1/2 cups yellow split peas (toor dal)

1/3 tsp. turmeric

2 tsp. Kosher salt

for the Tadka:

1/2 cup light vegetable oil

1 tsp. cumin seeds

1 1/2 cup finely chopped onions

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

2 T finely chopped coriander leaves (cilantro)

  1. Sort and wash the peas. Put the peas in a bowl, add enough hot water to cover by 1″ and let soak for an hour. Drain.
  2. Put the peas, turmeric and 4 1/2 cups water in a deep pot. Bring to a boil, stirring to keep the peas from lumping. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes, or until the peas are thoroughly cooked and tender when pressed between your fingers. Stir now and then to ensure that they don’t stick to the pan. Turn off the heat and beat the peas with a wooden spoon or whisk until finely pureed. There should be about 5 cups of puree. If not, add water until you reach 5 cups. (You can refrigerate the puree for up to 4 days if you want, or freeze. Defrost thoroughly before proceeding)
  3. When ready to serve, simmer the puree over low heat until piping hot. Check the consistency and add water if it is too thick. Set aside and make the tadka.
  4. Heat oil over medium high heat in a frying pan. When it is very hot, add the cumin seeds and fry until they turn dark brown (about 10 seconds). Add onions and fry until they turn dark brown (about 20 minutes), stirring constantly to prevent burning. Stir in red pepper and pour tadka over split pea puree. (It will sputter – don’t get your face too close) Garnish with coriander and serve in small bowls.

(Note – I pour the tadka over the puree when it is still in the pot and mix it in. This isn’t authentic, but I prefer it over having the oil sit on top of the puree.)

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Laxmi’s Vegetarian Kitchen by Laxmi Hiremath

This is a great book. Period. End of story. Seriously, this book contains some of my favorite recipes EVER. Garlicky smothered bell peppers (pg. 98), Garbanzo Beans in Tangy Tomato Sauce (pg. 160), Lemon-Sesame Rice Crowned with Vegetables (pg. 136), Palak Paneer (pg. 166), and the recipe that got my husband to eat cabbage, Gujarat-Style Baked Cabbage (pg. 115). Some of the recipes are complicated, but everything I have made out of this book is wonderful! The pages are coated with stains and scribbled remarks like “Great!” and “Yum!”

This dish should come out with a crispy texture like a potato pancake or hash browns. You can serve it with ANYTHING. If you have a clay baking dish, use it – you get better crispy edges.

Gujarat-Style Baked Cabbage

2 cups firmly packed finely shredded green cabbage

1 medium onion, halved and finely sliced

1/4 cup grated coconut, fresh or thawed (you can use unsweetened dried – just rehydrate in a little hot water)

3/4 cup chickpea flour

1 tsp. grated fresh ginger

1 or 2 fresh hot green chiles, chopped (serranos are a good choice)

1 tsp. ground coriander

1 tsp. salt

3 T mild vegetable oil

1/4 cup water

sesame seeds

  1. Position rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350F.
  2. Combine the first 8 ingredients in a large bowl. Toss to mix well. Add the oil and water and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into an ungreased 8x8x2″ baking dish (a 9″ round works fine). Press lightly to spread into an even layer. Sprinkle the top with as much or as little sesame as you desire. Bake until the top is browned, about 45 minutes. Let rest for 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature.
  3. To reheat, place the baking dish in a cold oven and turn the heat on to 350F. Bake until heated though, about 12 minutes.

(Note – You can easily double this dish and bake it in a 13×9″ rectangular baking dish. Don’t double the salt, though. Just increase it a little bit.)

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Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen by – you guessed it – Rick Bayless


This book was written by one of my favorite chefs. Rick Bayless, owner of Topolobampo and Frontera Grill in Chicago (where I plan to celebrate my 50th birthday) is a master of Mexican cooking. He was working on his Doctorate in Anthropological Linguistics in Mexico when he wrote his first cookbook about regional Mexican cooking. In nearly every recipe, Rick offers variations and improvisations, showing that Mexican cooking is flexible – truly an art, not a science.

This recipe is one of 14 different sauces (salsas) and seasoning pastes that he writes about. It is quick, easy and one of my absolute favorites. Presented here is the version with canned chipotles in adobo, because it’s the easiest. The version in the book also shows how to use dried chipotles (both black-red and tan).

Essential Quick-Cooked Tomato-Chipotle Sauce

3-4 chipotles in adobo

4 unpeeled garlic cloves

1 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes (3 medium-large round or 9 to 12 plum)

1 T rich lard or olive or vegetable oil

salt to taste, about 1/2 tsp.

  1. Remove the canned chipotles from their adobo.
  2. In a heavy, ungreased skillet or on a griddle over medium-high heat, roast the unpeeled garlic until blackened and soft in spots, about 15 minutes. Cool, peel and coarsely chop.
  3. Lay the tomatoes on a baking sheet and place about 4″ from a very hot broiler. When they blister, blacken and soften on one side (about 6 minutes), flip them over and roast on the other side. Cool, then peel, collecting all the juices with the tomatoes. (Note – you can skip this step and use a 28-oz. can of Muir Glen fire-roasted tomatoes, either whole or diced. Just make sure they’re the fire roasted ones.)
  4. Scrape the tomatoes and their juices into a food processor and add the chiles and garlic. Pulse until nearly a puree – it should have more texture than canned tomato sauce.
  5. Heat the lard or oil in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot enough to make a drop of the puree sizzle sharply, add it all at once and stir for about 5 minutes as it sears and concentrates to an earthy, red, thickish sauce – about the consistency of a medium-thick spaghetti sauce. Season with salt.
  6. This freezes well. You may need to simmer when you defrost it to thicken it up again.

(Note – This is quite spicy with 4 chipotles. The first time you make it, use 3 chiles and go from there.)

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There you have it – six of my favorite cookbooks. I’m curious to know what yours are – please write and let me know. Who knows? They might become one of my new favorites, too!

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Food Porn

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Are you hungry yet?? 🙂