Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Sun Never Sets on This Dish

For reasons that I cannot explain, I came home from the studio today longing for the unlikely combination of soda bread and saag paneer. While I have eaten saag paneer in Ireland, I have never in all my days paired it with soda bread. Saag paneer is an Indian dish, the name means "spinach with cheese".  The cheese in question is usually a fresh farm cheese.  I could have made the cheese and done it properly, but I had some shredded mozarella in the fridge.  As I stared into the depths of my fridge a plan evolved in my head.  It wasn't traditional, but then soda bread isn't traditionally eaten with saag paneer.  I would make creamed spinach with spices traditionally associated with saag paneer, as if I were an Irish soldier of the raj, retired to Sligo, longing for a taste of the subcontinent.

Okay, that's a stretch.  However it was delicious. And bright green.  Really really bright green.

I more or less followed the Joy of Cooking recipe for soda bread, except that I omitted the raisins and caraway seeds on the grounds that trans-British Empire dinner or no, I refused to contaminate my spinach with raisins.  I dumped some cheddar cheese into the batter instead.  If I'd had some chives, I would have added them too.

And now without further ado

Hiberno-Indian Saag Paneer 

All measurements approximate, possibly even more so than usual.  The only thing I measured was the milk.
1 generous tablespoon butter, olive oil, or other preferred culinary lubricant (I used bacon grease but the USDA would prefer I discourage that sort of behavior)
1/2 medium yellow onion minced fine-ish
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
An appropriate quantity of minced garlic from a jar -- I think I used a couple of teaspoons -- or a couple of cloves smashed
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon powdered mustard (or a similar quantity of Grey Poupon)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg (or to taste -- my tastes regarding nutmeg are conservative)
1/2 a 10oz block of frozen spinach, thawed
1/3 cup butter milk
1/3 cup milk
a handful of mozzarella (one of my handfuls is around 1/2 cup)
salt, black pepper, and Sriracha or other chili sauce to taste

Heat the grease in a largish skillet over medium heat.

Add the onion.  Idly wander around putting things away for ten or fifteen minutes, stir whenever you wander by. I cleaned out the fridge.  I'm not sure that this was necessarily the best choice while I was cooking dinner, but I did not kill my appetite.

Add the flour and garlic.  Stir more intently for about five minutes.

Add the spices and the spinach.  Stir for a few minutes.

Add the milks, there will be some curdling.  Pay it no mind.  Bring it to a simmer, and simmer until thickened.

Turn off the heat, and add the cheese.  Taste and correct seasonings.  I realize that not everyone likes quantities of chili sauce in their saag paneer, but I do.

If you timed it right, the soda bread should be coming out of the oven about now.  Tear off a hunk and dip it in the paneer like it's fondue.  Oh so good.

If one wanted my opinion about suitable adult beverages I would suggest an IPA or a very dry white wine.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Sourdough redux

The thing about a stand mixer is that it makes bread easy.  I don't have the same connection with my dough, but I am more likely to make bread regularly, which is good when you have a sourdough starter that you need to keep active and perky.  Also the bread I made in the last post, really did live up to it's smell.

I've got another batch of sourdough sponge rising right now.  I'll roll out of bed and bake it tomorrow.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


Folks, I ought to write about sourdough.  I need to write about sourdough. I have had a very small jar of sourdough starter bubbling away in my fridge for weeks, and it survived me going off to Alaska for Christmas, and nearly my first act on arriving home was to start a batch of pancake batter so as to have a sybaritic breakfast on my first day of class.  Right now I have a loaf of whole wheat sourdough bread rising in the kitchen because I decided I would rather bake bread than buy bread this week.

My sourdough starter happened by accident, when a friend mixed up the necessary dry ingredients for naan and mailed them to me.  My naan did not work out quite right (suspect that the problem was the lack of a pizza stone), and I only made half the batch.  I stuck the rest of the dough in the fridge, vaguely promising to figure out what to do with it later. A couple of weeks later, I remembered it and pulled it out.  I smelled it.  It had the smell, the sour fermented smell that promises bread, fluffy pancakes,  and the best cinnamon rolls on the planet (you have not lived until you've had sourdough cinnamon rolls).  So I made pancakes.  Today is actually the first time I've made a loaf of sourdough, because pancakes are so simple and delicious. I'll let you know what happens.

Edit to add:
At one point Bird and I speculated about what hymns would be like if dogs wrote them.  I'm afraid that we thought they would mostly go: "I smell God! I smell God! I smell God! I smell Jesus! I smell God!"

The bread is in the oven, and I feel more or less or exactly that way.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


The Joy of Cooking is in many ways my all purpose cookbook. It is the repository of wisdom that I consult over and over, even when I am actually cooking from another cookbook entirely.  And it has my favorite easy chocolate cake recipe (make it with whole wheat flour and skip the frosting, and it makes a nearly respectable breakfast).  It contains my favorite piece of wisdom on dinner parties:
We can offer reasoned counsels and repeat the lessons of experience and tradition, but the truth is that tif the table is attractive and clean, the food and drink honest and good, the company amiable* and interesting, and the host generous and calm, an affair can be a resounding success no matter where the glasses go or who is sitting where. And that is our last word on entertaining. 
However even Joy sometimes falters as I discovered this afternoon.  A recipe for a soup contains this ingredient: One 14-ounce can whole tomatoes, with juice, crushed between your fingers... (pg. 310, 1997 ed.) How, I ask you, am I supposed to do that?  Is this a seventh degree kitchen black belt thing?

Fortunately the recipe doesn't contain kale so I won't try to make it today.

*"Amiable" is high on my list of favorite words.