Spice Master: Contestant #2

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Editors Note: Yesterday you got to see how a pack of 12 spices inspired bobby to create an intricate lamb and couscous dish.  Today, you’ll find out how JoeHoya reinterpreted those same Tunisian spices.  And tomorrow – we’ll leave it up to ES readers to pick the Who Cooked It Better: Spice Master.   

Spice Master Contender: JoeHoya

It’s a walk-off.”

When the Who Cooked It Better gauntlet was thrown down, I couldn’t help but smile.  As anyone who knows me can tell you, most of my kitchen improvisations involve cumin, paprika, chili powder, or a combination of the three.  Working three of the spices from the Tunisian fun-pack wouldn’t be the problem – editing would.  I needed to find a dish that highlighted the spices without going overboard.

And I wanted to do my best to incorporate that elusive Tunisian flare, so I did some reading and found out that Tunisian cuisine involves a fair amount of seafood (I also found a recipe for a pine nut pudding and a garlicky chickpea soup, but I figured both would be dismissed as obvious pandering to BS and Gansie).

In the end, I turned to John Ash’s “From the Earth to the Table,” a cookbook my wife and I picked up after we saw it in a winery in Temecula, California.  We’ve found some real winners in this book before, and Elizabeth reminded me that one of them is a delicious tomato-curry soup served with riso (a rice-like pasta, similar to orzo only smaller and easier to overcook.)

Full disclosure – I’m not really a recipe person.  I like to use them more as inspirations than blueprints, adding ingredients that make sense (or that I happen to have on hand.)  In this case, however, I tried to stay relatively close to the original recipe and then supplement or replace with the Tunisian spices we had to work with.

Click through: full recipe, another pic, serving suggests

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Spice Master: Contestant #1

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Editors Note:  I’ve got to be honest.  So I hadn’t cooked in a while and was trying to think of something I could post on ES.  And then I remembered those kick-ass spices that I got from Gypsy‘s travels to Tunisia.  Contest – now that’s an easy post.  I had no idea that people would actually try to figure out that impossible 12.  Especially for the lame prize of pre-made seasoning packets – basically the most opposite item anyone savvy enough to enter the contest would actually want. 

Regardless, after checking the entries, we had a tie.  And without even asking the co-winners, we decided to ride out the enthusiasm of the Spice Master Contest.  So here we are, we demanded that ES readers guess spices they couldn’t even smell and now we’ve demanded that the co-winners give us recipes based on those same foreign spices.  Luckily, both bobby (aka bobbyc) and JoeHoya took this opportunity to send in breathtaking recipes.  Thank you to both.  

 So here we are with bobby’s Tunsian recipe.  Tomorrow we’ll post JoeHoya’s recipe.  And on Wednesday we’ll offer you a chance to vote for the winner in a special Who Cooked It Better: Spice Master Edition.  Stay tuned. 

Spice Master Contender: bobby

Typically when I cook a new dish, I look at a bunch of different recipes, get an understanding of the basic concept of the dish, keep the essential ingredients the same, and play around with the rest. For Coucha (spelled Koucha in some references), I couldn’t find any recipes — only descriptions. Odd, since most references describe it as a “Tunisian favorite.” The basic idea seems to involve cooking a young lamb shoulder smothered in oil and spices at low heat in a sealed earthen vessel — similar to a Moroccan tajine. The low heat for an extended period of time breaks down the fat, making everything delicious, and the sealed vessel keeps everything super-moist.

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I built my own clay vessel out of flower pots at Lowes — just had to make sure everything sealed fairly well.

From the rest of my reading on Tunisian cuisine, I gathered that nearly every meal is served with couscous. It is prepared in a special couscoussière, which steams the grains while you cook a stew of meat, vegetables and spices below. I didn’t have one of these, so I put the couscous in boiling chicken broth, then mixed in an assortment of spiced vegetables.

To finish everything off, I mixed up some harissa — spicy pepper & garlic sauce. From what I gather, harissa is the ketchup of Tunisia, only with flavor.

Click through: full recipe, more pics, serving suggests

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La Comida Mas Fresca

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(Crabs scuttle in the sand)

Editors Note: Maybe it’s not so bad going back to school. As a teacher that is. ES friend jakeSG teaches DC youth from September to June and then takes a rock star trip in the summer. I’d KILL for a summer vaca. Regardless, jakeSG went back to Costa Rica this year (here’s his take on last year) to lead teens through the hills and farms and lakes of this gorgeous land. You can see the rest of his beautiful pics here and below jakeSG details his fresh from the farm meal.

by: jakeSG

I eat well in Costa Rica, but nothing prepared me for the cooking of Ana Cerdas Rodriguez. The thirty-five year old mother of three spends days jotting down recipes in a handwritten cookbook, some of which she learns from the occasional cooking show on one of the three channels the family gets in Guadalupe de Rivas. Most of the food I get in these homes is terrific, but they all lack the presentation that Anaisa labors to achieve.

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She outdoes even the nicest Tico restaurant I’ve been to, framing her gallo pinto (beans and rice for breakfast) in a glass to achieve that perfect shape. Her maduros (slowly sauteed green bananas) are delicate and sweet, never burned.

The Fresh Meal took place on Dia de la Madre, a day in which she shouldn’t have been cooking, but she still intended to show us what it meant to use what you have around. I’ve been reading a lot about food lately (Michael Pollan and Russ Parsons) and the underlying, constant theme is: fresh food is better. Period.

The Meal

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The trout was bred by Miguel in his man-made backyard pond; there are over 30 fish swimming there. The twins went about to take out 13 of the biggest fish (I succeeded in catching one puny one), although I did manage to stay dry — something that can’t be said for a cousin of theirs who got a much closer look after slipping on a wet rock.

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The Ghosts of Gansie’s Pantry

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I guess you can call this being lazy. But, shit, its August. If the Post can rationalize a 13-day serial on a 7 year old unsolved murder, than I can surely rehash a few recipes. (Although, like my friend Pie-ka, I’m totally into the salacious story of an intern, a congressman and piss-poor policing.)

Anyway, just like a year ago, I’m still very into bulgur wheat, feta, avocado and putting an egg on anything possible. As I was trying to clear out the fridge before I leave for the Jersey Shore this weekend (!) I saw all of those wondrous ingredients.

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Keen on Quinoa

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A few months back, gansie ripped out this Gourmet recipe for quinoa cakes with eggplant-tomato-ragu and mozzarella and passed it on to me with the notation “this looks a-mazing but I can’t even be bothered to read all the directions. Poss you and Alex?”

It did indeed look a-mazing (quinoa over couscous any day of the week) so I held on to it, bought some quinoa to have on reserve, and recently we finally got around to it. Unfortunately, I should have read all the directions a little closer myself, because I did not quite grasp how epic a process this would be. Gourmet estimates the time at 1.25 hrs and this is a total lie. You have to boil the quinoa, let it cool, mix it up with egg, let it cool more, form the quinoa into patties, chill these – and this is all before you even start actually cooking them up. I would estimate more like double – 2.5 hrs, in real person cooking time. Long story short, I wouldn’t make these from scratch again, but if I had leftover quinoa, I would go this route to use it up – it’s a tasty idea. Full adventure detailed after the j.

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Syn, Syn, Syndicated

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Just letting you know, I’ve become Robert Novak. No, really. People now pay to reprint my writing. I know. Crazytown. So, watch out for a gansie coming to your local Onion…New York, Chicago, Wisconsin, Austin, Denver, Minnesota, San Francisco…

Oh, and I never read. This story for the Onion was quite a struggle and I severely bothered my friends over this feature.

Read and Feed

What used to be a way for suburban mothers to get out of the house has now evolved into a way for young, single 20-somethings to get out of the house. While book clubs may vary drastically in theme (feminist, history, Oprah), participants (co-workers, neighbors, Craigslisters), and fun (glass of wine, bottle of wine, bowl of marijuana), all book clubs rally around food.

Some book clubs meet at a centrally located restaurant where they can linger over dog-eared pages, drink from communal
pitchers, and let other people make the food—but that can lead to members spending more time contemplating the pages of a menu than those of their literature.

Instead, class up your next book-club gathering and create a meal based around your book choice. (Or, alternatively, choose your book around a meal.) Here are some fine page-plate pairings to get your literary and culinary mind in gear.

Ron Paul, The Revolution
w/ Broiled Steak and Chipotle Dipping Dauce

If you think hope is audacious, don’t care about villages, and are through trying to live up to daddy’s example, perhaps you’d be more interested in the political upheaval espoused by 10-term congressman and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul. His The Revolution touts the glories of the Constitution, reveres the vision of the Founding Fathers, and rages at what’s wrong with our current government. While chewing through this meaty treatise on libertarianism, pay tribute to Paul’s Texas roots by chewing through a broiled steak.

In a Pyrex dish, marinade a cut of flank steak with extra-virgin olive oil, crushed garlic, cumin, oregano, chili powder, kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper; toss in some red wine too, but only if it’s from California—Paul’s an isolationist. While this sits, mix together sour cream, one chopped chipotle in adobo sauce, plus some adobo sauce, salt, pepper, and a few squeezes of a lime to create a smoky, hot dipping sauce. When the guests arrive, stick the steak under the broiler for two minutes, then flip it and cook it for another two minutes. Transfer to a cutting board, drape it with tin foil, and let it sit for seven minutes. Slice against the grain and serve it with your sauce. Keep your utensils in the drawer.

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An Acceptable Cake for Dinner

Plated Fish Cakes

Since 80 went to all that trouble encasing two entire whole fish in a salt and egg white crust, I painstakingly went through the leftover fish—scraping and pulling and plucking—to salvage all of that delicious, moist meat for another dish. So while everyone was drinking our donated wine (thanks to Anna and Jeb who sent us back from their wedding weekend with more than half a case of leftover wine from the rehearsal dinner) I was at the dining room table, trying to avoid touching fish eyes and collecting bones.

And I actually knew what I wanted to make right away – fish cakes. I love crab cakes, but never think to buy packaged lump crab meat. I’d rather hammer away at the suckers during a crab boil and beer fest. It’s one of the things I most look forward to in the summer. That and laying out at the Jersey shore (or friends’ balconies. I will have a balcony or roof deck one day!)

I spied these two recipes and basically borrowed what I liked from each to create my version. Recipe post jump.

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