Monday, June 21, 2010


Here are some links to download recent episodes of What's Cookin' Now!  Just click to play or right-click to save to your computer and play at will.

May: The Food of Springtime

April: La Comida de Espana (The Food of Spain)

The Cuisine of Bonnaroo!

Bonnaroo 2010
So I spent last weekend with about 80,000 of my closest friends at the Bonnaroo music festival down in Manchester, TN.  I'm still (slowly) recapping it over at the Zen Arcade blog, but suffice it to say the music was awesome and the weather was miserable.
I was doing it solo this year for the second year in a row, and when you're on your own (and when you have an air-conditioned press tent to hang out in between bands) heading back to the campsite to cook something is more trouble than it's worth.  So I kept my campsite as spartan as possible, packed a few provisions for breakfast and late-night noshing, and did the vast majority of my eating at the festival itself.

I'll offer up a few general observations here, and then a couple more posts on specific topics:

--Thanks to the adventurous (or, if you prefer, hippiefied) nature of the Bonnaroovians, the food available in Centeroo stretches far beyond the usual festival fare.  Plenty of ethnic foods, plenty of vegetarian options.  That said, there aren't many truly healthy options, and if you're smart you'll bring along a nice big bottle of fiber supplements.

--The last thing you want if you're dancing your ass off in sweltering heat is a full belly, so the best way to eat at Bonnaroo is to graze and snack throughout the day.  Since the food is generally heavy and in largeish portions, this can be difficult if you're by yourself.  Pairs and groups should share freely and frequently.

--If you're lucky enough to have access to the guest area, there is a "Messy Hall" with real caterers set up.  It's not bad, but it's expensive if you're solo (since portions are big enough to split, easily) and too reliant on that enemy of all that is delicious, the wrap.  (It's entirely possible to make something wonderful that's wrapped in a tortilla, but not if you call it a "wrap".)  Thursday night I was famished and not up for much exploring, so I had a Cuban pork and black bean wrap that could have fed me twice for $9, if only I had a fridge to stash the other half in.  Same goes for the fries--great when they're fresh, covered in herbs and parmesan, and not bad at $6 for a Chinese takeout container full if you want that many fries.

--New this year was a Farm-To-Table dinner at the Planet Roo Cafe, a sit-down, multi-course affair featuring products from the many farms surrounding Manchester.  It required an advance reservation and cost $25, but I was still surprised that the turnout seemed light; I guess I underestimate the number of local food nerds at rock festivals.  (They didn't seem to push it very hard.  I think it was experimental this year.)

I thought it was a steal for four well-prepared courses, including a salad with some sort of fritter, a really nice trout dish with local vegetables, and strawberry shortcake with peak strawberries.  The only slight misstep was the gazpacho, since early June is about as far as you can get from worthwhile tomatoes, but on a hot night like that one even the hothouse version felt great going down.

I hope they do this again next year; it was nice to eat a civilized meal in the middle of such a frenzy.

--You can't bring bottles into Bonnaroo (theoretically), but the saints at New Belgium have made it all OK by putting their delicious Fat Tire in cans.  I knew I wouldn't be drinking much at the campsite (since I would barely be there) but I still bought a case of it, since they don't sell Fat Tire in Kentucky yet.  (Could y'all hurry up with that?)

Up next: the awesomeness of the samosa.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Recipe: Smoky White Bean and Red Pepper Dip (WCN! July '10)

This is adapted from Boy Gets Grill by Bobby Flay; his version is apparently a huge hit at his Mesa Grill restaurants.  I've simplified it just a hair by using jarred peppers and leaving out the cilantro (for my cilantro-averse wife).  I like to keep all the necessary ingredients for this in the pantry so I can whip it up at a moment's notice.

Smoky White Bean and Red Pepper Dip
2 cans white beans (Great Northern work great), drained but liquid reserved
4 cloves garlic
1 jar roasted red peppers, with juice
1 tbsp chipotle puree *
1 tbsp honey
salt and pepper to taste

Whirr up the garlic in the food processor, then add everything else but the beans and blend it up.  Put in the beans and blend until smooth, adding bean liquid until you get the texture you want.

Serve with good quality tortilla chips--I like the blue corn ones.

* To make chipotle puree, buy a can of chipotles in adobo sauce (look in the Mexican aisle), throw it in the food processor, and blend it smooth.  Keep it in a tightly-closed container in the fridge and it'll last pretty much forever.  Use it whenever you need a nice blast of smoke and heat.

Recipe: Pita Chips (WCN! July '10)

These are for the hummus.  Za'atar is a spice blend used throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East made up of sumac, thyme, sesame seeds, hyssop, and oregano--not too easy to track down, but awesome in this application.  If you have fancy salt lying around, this is the place for it.

Pita Chips
1 package pitas
olive oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Pour some olive oil onto the cutting board and rub a pita in it.  Rub another pita on that one to take off the excess.  Repeat until all the pitas have a thin layer of oil.  Put them on a sheet pan in a single layer, add the za'atar and salt, and put in the oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.

Recipe: Hummus (WCN! June '10)

This is hummus at its most basic.  There are only a few ingredients, so they're all important--I'll comment below the recipe on each of them.

Jonathan's Hummus
2 cans chickpeas, drained
2 large cloves garlic
1 big spoonful tahini
1 1/2 tsp toasted ground cumin
1 tsp salt
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp water
salt and pepper to taste

Chop up the garlic cloves in your food processor along with the tahini and cumin.  Add everything else but the olive oil and grind it up as fine as you can.  As the processor is running, add the olive oil in a slow stream and process until it's smooth.  Taste and adjust.

Chickpeas: I have made hummus starting with dried chickpeas, and not only is it a pain in the ass, it's not nearly as good.  The process of cooking the peas in the can gives them a creamier texture.  You could duplicate it in a pressure cooker, I guess, if you really wanted to.
Garlic: We find that a ratio of one good-sized clove to one can of chickpeas makes good "company hummus"--that is, pleasantly garlicky but not so much so that your parents or your co-workers will make faces.  Doubling that makes it a big garlic slap in the face, which isn't a bad thing, but I like hummus with more balance.  When I make it for myself, I use three great big cloves to two cans.  If you want to tone the raw garlic flavor down, thread the cloves onto a wooden skewer and dunk them in boiling water for about a minute.
Tahini: Tahini is sesame seed paste; you can find it in the "ethnic" section at Wal-Mart or at any hippie store.  Lots of people say you can substitute peanut butter--I mean, of course you can.  You can substitute freakin' strawberries if you want your hummus to taste like strawberries.  Hummus made with PB will taste like PB.  Buy some tahini--it lasts pretty much forever in the fridge.
Cumin: It's worth it to toast whole cumin seeds and grind them yourself.  The toasting really wakes the spice up.  A cheap coffee grinder is awesome for whole spices like this--just don't use the same one you use for coffee.  (And for God's sake, label them.)
Lemon: Use an actual lemon.  Accept no substitutes.
Olive Oil: Use extra-virgin here, but don't break out the $35 bottle.  The subtleties of real top-notch oil will get lost with all of these other strong flavors.  Save the good stuff for a salad or for dipping bread.  Use as much as you need for a nice fluffy texture.

Note: If you want it to be pretty, dust it with some paprika and garnish it with thin slices of the other half of the lemon.

Thai Coconut Curry Noodles

Thai Coconut Curry Noodles

Oil to coat wok or large pan
1 lb. chicken breast, thinly sliced into 2 inch pieces
2 Tbs. flour
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 can bamboo shoots, thinly sliced
2 cups thin green bean
2 Tbs. Thai red curry paste
1 can coconut milk
2 Thai chilies (optional), finely chopped
Juice of ½ a lime, slicing other ½ into wedges
1-3 Tbs. Fish sauce, depending on taste
1 pkg. rice noodles, soaked 1 hour starting with hot water (or according to package)

Add oil to wok and heat to medium high. Lightly flour chicken, add to pan and cook stirring until cooked through and browning. Add garlic, green beans and bamboo shoots and cook 5 minutes more stirring constantly. Remove to platter and set aside. Add red curry paste to wok and cook, stirring for 1 minute. Add coconut milk and stir to combine. Add chilies, lime juice and fish sauce and stir. Reintroduce chicken, green beans and bamboo shoots. Add pre-soaked noodles and combine thoroughly. Cook a couple of minutes, stirring constantly. Serve with lime wedges.