Tag Archives: cook

First Steps with Indian Spices

Getting Acquainted with Your Spices (if you don’t know the differences already)
Indian spices shouldn’t be as intimidating to you as it was to me.  I think I now understand why I thought Indian cooking was this foreign realm that I wouldn’t be able to touch: because of the foreign flavors.

A simple solution to understanding cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cardamom is to start adding it to black tea (with milk and sugar).  It’s funny, but I had always known about this “spiced” tea and the Chinese in me refused to believe that it would possibly taste good compared to my straight green and black teas without milk or sugar.  You can isolate all of them, or you can start with one then keep adding so you understand each one and have a good memory of what is what!  (fundamental for figuring out which is which when you are cooking, and what you still need to add into an incomplete dish)

Oh man… “chai” is so delicious and one easy way to acquaint yourself with these spices.  Everyday you feel like drinking tea, only use one of the ingredients (a little at first, and more in future batches if you like it).  I have it down to a science that I actually prefer mine with only cardamom and a small amount of clove.

As for cumin, tumeric, coriander, and mustard seeds, I recommend trying them with chicken if you are a meat eater one at a time similar to the chai concept.  One of my favorite chicken dishes is just the  chicken smothered in coriander powder, salt, pepper, and garlic.

Spices Used at the Destination, not in the Journey
Something I realized about my approach to these spices is that I don’t expect the flavor to seep in over long cooking times–if anything most everything is ground up so I expect to have a bit of the flavor in every bite, or I use so much of it that I will definitely taste it.  It’s not like cooking down chicken to get the chicken flavor in a soup, nor is it using tons of peppercorns or basil to flavor a stew only to take out the peppercorns in the end.  This is probably because I am mostly cooking vegetarian dishes with strong vegetable flavors, and not necessarily creating a stew where the chicken needs to absorb the flavors.

It is definitely possible my approach isn’t right, but so far in most of the recipes I’ve read for basic vegetarian dishes, I haven’t been very wrong.

Homemade Arepas

I love food and am ready to fork up my hard earned money on crazy meals that blow my mind, but feel really uncomfortable paying a premium for things that I know I can easily make very cheaply and easily.  Caracas is one of my favorite restaurants, yet every time I pay 8-9 dollars on an arepas and eat a ton of them, I feel a lot of guilt.

So I decided to make my own!

At first it was a bit tricky sourcing the masarepa flour.  Of course I was being stingy and tried to find it in the Wal Mart in Clifton, but mistakenly bought the wrong one and was severely disappointed when the corn flour didn’t stick to make a dough!  It has to be masarepa flour! hehe (duh on me) because it is precooked.

I finally got a pack that makes 24 arepas from my upstate Wal-Mart for .38, but you can definitely find it somewhere in the city.

First step, just mix up the flour with hot water (the instructions will be on your masarepa flour bag) and it will look like this:


Next I would start prepping what you want to put inside the arepa.  I sauteed some bananas (since I didn’t have sweet plantains), then mushrooms and onions, and cut up some mozzarella, scallions, and onions.  I also prepped some fresh salsa with cara cara oranges, tomatoes, balsamic, olive oil, onions, scallions, and cilantro, and also some vinegar with pureed raw onions, and sugar as a side sauce. It sounds like a lot of work, but that’s because I made a ton of different stuffings!

After the stuffings are prepped, heat up a large pan with oil.  You want a large pan to make sure you can cook a few of the shells at the same time.  I read a few recipes with butter and tried it, but butter burns a lot faster than oil… so it was more difficult!  Basically you press the dough into a flat patty the size and thickness you want your arepas.  If they are too think it’ll take too long to cook them through, and if you don’t cook them through you won’t be able to cut them open.

YUM.  This is what it finally looked like:

Finished Arepa

Another Finished Arepa

Toad in a Hole – Grilled Cheese w/Egg

I thought I’d share this with you guys because I assume since I didn’t know what it was there has to be other sheltered people missing out!

It’s called “Toad in a Hole” or “Egg in a Basket” and extremely easy and straightforward.

Ingredients: 2 slices of bread, cheese (sliced or shredded), butter, one egg

1. Lightly coat a pan with butter
2. Cut a hole in one of the pieces of bread, 2-2.5 inch diameter
3. Drop the two pieces of the bread in the pan to lightly toast
4.  Crack the egg into the hole, or if you are shell prone, into a bowl then into the hole :-).
5. Let the egg cook through as you see the transparent whites turn…white
6. Carefully flip both pieces of toast
7. Put the cheese on the piece without the egg
8. Let the cheese melt a bit, then put the two sides together :-).