May 27, 2011

Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude: The Kabob Edition

Note: Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude is a weekly feature about food, food and more FOOD. No, I do not necessarily want to be a food blogger, but I do LOVE to talk about food prep, cooking food, eating food and making sweet love to food. Okay, maybe not the "sweet love" part. This is not meant to be some homage to 91/2 Weeks.


In America, we honor our servicemen by grilling hunks, skewers and slabs of meat on an open flame and then cracking open a tall, cold one.

Or something like that.

In last week's Intestinal Fortitude post, I wrote about how I don't get to do beef much any longer - the comments of that post got me to thinking about moral choices when it comes to food.  I am still twisting my brain around that and will have a follow-up post at some point.  But not today. Instead, this week, I thought it would be fun to share two of my favorite kabob recipes. These recipes are from an auntie long, long ago.  Also, all of these are awesome served with the cumin-based raita recipe I've included at the end -- I've been making the raita for so long that at this point, I have no idea to whom I should credit!

Man, I really miss beef, sometimes.

What's your favorite grilling or kabob recipe?  Feel free to share recipes/tips/hints in the comments or link to your own post. If anything I have learned over the years is that there is rarely ONE way to make anything.

Besides, I am always looking for new ideas.  Aren't we all??

Boti Kabob
2 lbs. undercut beef
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground green chilis
2 cups plain yogurt (I use Greek)
1 tsp minced garlic
Salt to taste

Cut the beef into small cubes.  Add the spices to the yogurt and marinate the meat cubes in the mixture for 3-4 hours (I put everything into a gallon-sized Ziploc bag.)  Pierce the cubes on a skewer and grill until golden brown.  Serve with wedges of lemon. (Note: you could also include veggies on the skewers with the meat.  I LOVE roma tomatoes with these.)

Seekh Kabob
1 lb ground beef
2 tbsp yogurt
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
Salt to taste
A pinch of cinnamon

Mix all ingredients well.  Grease skewers and mold the meat mixture into sausage shapes around the skewers and broil until brown.  Serve with sliced tomatoes and rings of onions.

My Favorite Raita Recipe
2 cups of yogurt
2 tablespoon finely minced onion
1 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
Mix ingredients together and let sit for at least 30 minutes.

May 24, 2011

Crumbling Land

Pink Floyd, Zabriskie Point 1971

Last week, Arun, Manoj and I began dealing with the same bug that Anjali had just gotten over from the week prior.  At first, it seemed to be nothing other than Ye Olde Standard Ebola.  By Friday, it felt as if a bomb had gone off in my head.  I staggered into urgent care Saturday morning, showing up just before they opened because I was so desperate.  An hour later, I was diagnosed with an double ear infection and the doctor threw in eye and sinus infections for good measure.  I picked up the resulting prescriptions and staggered back home.  I have a dysfunctional eustachian tube in my left ear anyway and this ear infection has only served to turn my head into a vast cavern of cacophonic din ringing with white noise.


Later on, Saturday night became a nerve-wracking one for much of the Kansas City metro - we had thunderstorms in all directions, across multiple counties with reported tornado touchdowns here and there.  Sirens going off at 11pm made even the most stoic of us nervous as we fired off jittery Tweets and Facebook messages to each other.

Manoj slept through it all.

However,  Saturday was nothing, absolutely nothing compared to what Joplin faced the next day  - just 160 miles south of us. A tornado 3/4 of a mile wide??   I doubt there are many folks in Kansas City who aren't thinking of Joplin today.   You realize how bad things are when you feel lucky that you have a direct line into helping, into doing something. Lucky!  My friend Ruth has a friend whose family lost their home.  I am running some supplies over today to Ruth to pass to her friend so that she can take them down on Thursday.  It's an odd emotion to be grateful that you can do something other than the obligatory donation to Red Cross.

I'm still wrapping my around that discord of emotion.

This weekend, my sister Maureen are heading down to Branson to meet the parents.  I am going to spend a silly weekend relishing my family, eating barbecue and listening to bluegrass music and cute hillbilly schtick.  I am also going to do my best to be patient with these two little monkeys.

I am going to give them hugs all damned weekend long.

Everyone, have a good weekend and remember to love your loved ones.

May 20, 2011

Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude:
The Way to a Man's Heart

Note:  Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude is a weekly feature about food, food and more FOOD. No, I do not necessarily want to be a food blogger, but I do LOVE to talk about food prep, cooking food, eating food and making sweet love to food.  Okay, maybe not the "sweet love" part.  This is not meant to be some homage to 91/2 Weeks.

I’ll bet what motivated the British to colonize so much of the world is that they were just looking for a decent meal.
- Martha Harrison

December 1989:  I begin to learn about the Pakistani and North Indian styles of cooking - prior to that, I had lived on packages of Lipton Rice because I had no idea how to cook ANYTHING.  The boyfriend du jour was Pakistani and eventually, in my social circle,  I would add a North Indian roommate, later a Vietnamese roommate along with a mix of friends from Egypt, Nigeria, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It all made sense back then, although it's a little tricky to explain today.

November 2000:  I'm no longer dating the Pakistani, my friends are scattered to the far ends of the Earth - I had mostly lost touch with them after college.   I happen to meet a nice Catholic, South Indian boy from Kerala.  He asked me to dinner and I told him I knew of a place that actually served dosas, a South Indian specialty.  He was doubtful because South Indian food is such a rarity here in Kansas City.  We met there for dinner and he was quite surprised.  On our first date, the event where you display your Mate-Worthy Wares,  I told him that I could cook Indian and of course, he was politely doubtful.  However, the first time I did cook for him, he couldn't suppress his surprise and said "You really can cook."  I took that as a compliment.  Early in our relationship, I hunted for a cookbook on Kerala and came upon Maya Kaimal's "Savoring the Spice Coast of India: Fresh Flavors from Kerala". I got to work on learning how to cook with curry leaves, mustard seed, coconut milk and kudampuli.  This Kansas girl even learned how to pick a damned good piece of fish. You see,  I am nobody's fool.  I really, really liked this boy and could see how much he loved food.

We've been together for over 10 years now.

For me, it was completely natural to do all of that - I love to cook and learning new recipes are the height of excitement when it comes to cooking.  After all, We Who Love To Cook LIVE for sifting through cookbooks, hunting the Internet and pestering friends for recipes.   However, since I learned how to cook primarily from foreigners, I am still weak when it comes to White People Food - I can do chili, ribeye steak, chicken n' dumplings and baked ziti.  This has not been too much of an issue since Manoj only likes the baked ziti.

Wait.  Actually, it has been an issue.

As much as I love Brown People Food, I am still very much 100% White Meat and it stings that Manoj has nixed two of my childhood favorites, two dishes I absolutely CRAVE on a wintery, snowy day.

Chili or Chicken n' Dumplings

Or, how about a hot, sultry day when a steak slapped on a grill served with a cool, arugula salad and side of fresh-cut cantaloupe is all my gullet requires?

Cue the Greek Chorus, folks.

To make matters worse, he has even blackballed a few of my favorite IndoPak dishes - vindaloo, haleem, nihari and chapli kabobs and chana.  Christ on toast!  What sort of Indian doesn't like vindaloo?  Or chana?  Okay...okay... I understand the beef issue.  Manoj is anti-beef solely for health reasons - since he is from a Syrian Christian ethnic group, it's not for religious reasons.   He's just trying to be healthy and save his beef consumption for the likes of Five Guys.

However, I did not give up so easily and over the years, I have scrounged around to find substitutes. I make this Peruvian Chicken Soup from Saveur and that fills my chicken n' dumpling void (sort of.)   And he certainly does not mind slapping chicken tandoori on the grill, so sometimes, I will sneak a salad on the side.  Occasionally, I will tell him that I must have chili or I WILL DIE and that he is going to have to Take One for the Team.  At least I make it with turkey, he should be grateful.  After all, I am sullying my Great-Grandma Daisy's chili with turkey, all  in the name of Marital Compromise.  And I do make keema with turkey, it still feels like a travesty, but at least I am getting my keema fix.

The one saving grace to all of this is that although Manoj has nixed some important food groups, he is still quite adventurous when it comes to eating.  Since we have been together, I have added to our mix Mexican, Mediterranean, Thai and some American-style Chinese (despite my last post, I am okay with home-cooked Amercian style Chinese because I cut the sugar and greasy-fried parts WAY down)   Oh! I can even sneak in White People Food (Curried Chicken Divan, anyone?)

Recently, I discovered a Filipino recipe for Chicken Braised in Coconut Sauce with Spinach. I found the recipe in the out-of-print The Asian Bistro Cookbook.  Honestly, the recipe was horribly written, so I have cleaned it up here, which works quite neatly in keeping with copyright restrictions.  This recipe hits a lot of notes - it is slightly rich because of the coconut milk, but the anchovies add a hint of sour.  Also, I just LOVE the cloves in this - they really pique the tastebuds.  This is a great cold weather dish because it is so savory and satisfying, but it is not so heavy that it can't be made in the middle of July. .

It is finding recipes like these that keep me going - knowing that I have years to look forward to in trying new things and having fun with cooking.  Manoj may not eat vindaloo, beef or much White People Food, but at least he is open to my experimentations.

Although, I'm still a little resentful about the vindaloo.

Okay, is this a White People vs. Brown People thing?  Those of you in Monochromatic Matches, have you encountered this?  Are we the only couple in the history of coupledom to have to compromise when it comes to the kitchen?

Filipino Braised Chicken in Coconut Sauce With Spinach
1 1/4 lb chicken breast, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp salt
12 oz fresh spinach, roughly chopped
6-8 green onions (separate green and white parts, then finely chop)
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp finely chopped celery with leaves
2 tsp ginger powder
2 tsp garlic
2 tbsp finely chopped Italian flat parsley
1 tsp chopped anchovies
1 cup chicken stock
1 can coconut milk (14 oz) (lite or regular will work.  I use lite)

1. Rub chicken pieces with the black pepper, cloves, cayenne and 1/4 tsp of the salt.  Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a saucepan large enough to hold all the chicken.  When the pieces are browned, remove them from the pan, leaving the oil behind in the pan.

2. Add the celery, ginger, garlic and the white portion of the chopped green onions to the pan.  Cook until fragrant, a minute or so (if it sticks, add a tablespoon of  water or two).

3. Stir in 1 tbsp of the parsley, the anchovies.  Cook 30 seconds. (Again, if it sticks, just add a bit of water.)

4. Stir in the chicken stock and remaining salt (1/2 tsp); bring to a boil and cook until reduced by half.  Slowly stir in coconut milk.

5. Add the chicken pieces and chopped spinach to the saucepan (don't worry if the spinach is overflowing a bit and seems too much for the pan - it will shrink drastically!)  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes.

6. Stir in the green portion of the chopped green onions and the remaining 1 tbsp of parsley.  Serve with white rice.

Serves 4
Food-prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 45 minutes

Notes: Don't skip the anchovies! I realize they are not popular, but they add a bit of sourness to this that is essential to offsetting the richness of the coconut milk.  I love anchovies, so I either eat the rest of the tin or freeze the excess in a sandwich baggie for the next batch of this dish.    Also, the original recipe calls for 2-4 tsp of finely chopped green chilis in Step 2.  I leave this out for now because of our kids - however, I think this would be even more awesome spiced up.  Also!  I have yet to make this dish perfectly - I always mess up the addition of the green onions and add the wrong part at the wrong time.  Guess what?  It has always come out delicious anyway.  Pretty much, this is fail-proof.  One final note:  This dish is even BETTER re-heated.  This would make an excellent Sunday night dish with leftovers saved for later in the week on a busy night.

May 17, 2011

The Scarecrow

Pink Floyd, The Piper at at the Gates of Dawn 1967

It was an interesting weekend - after Blogger horked on Friday, I finally was able to get my newest post up - check it out if you missed it.  I am testing a series called Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude and it will serve as a spot for me to talk about food.  Last Friday, I talked about Chinese Menus and the little-known secret of "authentic" menus, which has been life-changing for me.  After years of hating Chinese food, a whole new world has opened up.  This Friday, I am going to open up a bit about some of the gastronomic trials and tribulations Manoj and I have gone through over the years.  Food has been one of our top sources of Pain and Pleasure in our marriage.  I am also going to post a recipe for Filipino Braised Chicken With Coconut and Spinach which is to DIE FOR.

Besides posting on Friday, I took Team Chaos to the Cirque du Soleil production of Dralion, which was the Awesome, to the power of Infinity.  It was a 3:30pm showing and was not very crowded - I am used to the grand Vegas productions with permanent installation, but this was a traveling production and it was on such a smaller scale which felt more intimate.  I could not stop gasping out loud because I was so afraid they were going to fall.  The kids also LOVED it and now have new career aspirations. Manoj works his tail off to build a new life here in America and his kids want to be circus performers. Lovely! 'Tis the American Dream, no?  Oh, and Anjali fell asleep in the beginning.  She was leaning against me and I noticed she became noticeably heavier.  Sure enough, she took a little 20 minute nap.  No surprise here since I've posted about her Special Gift of Narcolepsy and have dedicated a Flickr set to it.  After all, this is the same girl who falls asleep on the floor at the school and the gym nursery. The girl who also falls asleep during time-outs and will even tuck herself into bed.  If my baby girl needs some Snooze Time, ain't no one stopping her, folks.  Unfortunately, I couldn't get a snap of the Cirque du Soleil SnoozeFest because I didn't want to test the staunch No Photos edict.

Random Snappage

Who needs a scarecrow when you could have a grass dragon?
I have been driving by this house for years and am always fascinated with where they move it. Manoj had better hope I never come across one of these for purchase. #Swoon

Still, a cobra might be nice.
This is Reason #27891 Why My Neighbors Hate Me. Other reasons??? Flowering weeds? Check. Half-naked kids in the front yard without a parent in sight? Check. Mouse-killing cats? Check. Dog crap? Check. We are The Oliver-George Household, bringing up the neighborhood standards here since 2004.

Absolutely Fabulous Bubbles
We are Front Yard People. That is where the action is - folks walking by with their dogs, saying hello to neighbors, the sidewalk for riding bikes. Our favorite moments are in the Front Yard.

It's a damned Good Thing I took pictures of the toad that Arun captured last week. Because now? This TOAD IS LOST IN MY HOUSE. At least we know what he looks like. Sigh.

White Trashin' It.

I received more than one chuckle in the parking lot as I folded this bad boy up like a taco and shoved it in the trunk. Pride?  Whatever!  My baby needed a swimming pool and we don't have room for a cement pond.

May 13, 2011

Fridays of Intestinal Fortitude: Authentic vs. Inauthentic Menus

Cuidado! Fridays Are Now Under Construction:
For the next month of Fridays, I am departing from the Pink Floyd theme - it's a test (of sorts). I do not necessarily want to be a food blogger, but I do LOVE to talk about food prep, cooking food, eating food and just plain FOOD. So! I am going to use the next month of Fridays to test this out by talking about cooking, sharing some recipes, maybe even talking about how Manoj and I have had to compromise in this all important area of Food.  No joke, it has been one of the most difficult aspects of our marriage. Oh, and I dedicated Fridays to the topic so that folks who are not interested in food can just scoot right past these posts.

Updated!  The name of the restaurant is Sichuan Gourmet in Billerica, MA

My two favorite Chinese meals are distinctly memorable to me. The first happened in 1993, in Karachi, Pakistan of all places. It was a very fancy Chinese restaurant and the meal was to DIE FOR. I was stunned by the meal, in particular, because it was nothing like Chinese I had ever had in all of my 22 years.

Of course it wasn't! After all, it was Chinese food made for Pakistani folks. It was rich, creamy, spicy and exploding in flavor.  More importantly, it was my first realization that Chinese folks adapted their food according to the tastes of the people among whom they were living.

My Second Memorable Chinese Meal was in Boston in 2007. Manoj and I were staying with our Indian friends, Ajay and Shravanthi, who simply RAVED about this place. We walked into the restaurant and immediately, I suspected we were in for a treat. I was the only White Person and Manoj, Ajay and Shravanthi were the only Indians. And the rest of the patrons were Chinese, sitting around huge, circular tables piled with food.  Seriously - it was CHINESE PEOPLE EATING CHINESE FOOD.

Who knew?

It was amazing to me to have THIS kind of Chinese food. Super spicy, non-fried, non-crispy, and most decidedly, NOT SWEET. It was savory and sour. Not too heavy.

 And no,  I was not hungry two hours later.

Okay...okay... this is not some boring recount of two amazing Chinese meals I had, but rather it is the start to an important lesson I learned about a month ago.  After the experiences in Boston, instead of thinking "Whoa.  How can I get this sort of meal in Kansas City?", I just assumed that we were too Backwater Hillbilly Redneck for Authentic Chinese even though I live in freaking OLATHE which is some sort of a Mecca for Chinese folks in Kansas City.

Oh sure, I had heard awhile back that Bo Lings, a popular restaurant here in Kansas City, has Authentic Chinese Menus, but I have never been a big fan of their food.  It was not helped by the fact that last year, we approached them with one of our business ideas and they literally STOLE THE IDEA, even to the extent of copying word for stinking WORD from our website.  So, a menu from Bo Steal-ings is not going to hold much water with me.  Grudges?  I got 'em.

Anyway!!   A month ago, I learned that yes, you can actually ask for Authentic Chinese menus at restaurants around here and it has rocked our world.  So far, we have tried Lucky Fortune in Overland Park/Leawood (95th and Nall) and Szechuan Dynasty here in Olathe at 119th and Strangline (next to Oklahoma Joe's).  We do love Lucky Fortune, but they are a hike, so we will stick mostly with Szechuan Dynasty.

With both restaurants, I had to push back a little when I asked for the Authentic Menus  - they both were hesitant to hand them over and I do not blame them.  They perhaps assumed I wanted what is considered "Chinese" here in America - sugary and deep-fried stuff.  Now that the gal at the Szechuan Dynasty knows us, she is very friendly and laughs when I pick up our order.  Last time, she excitedly said to me "I wish more Americans would try the real Chinese."

However, I am not here to recommend specific restaurants in a specific city  because this can probably be done anywhere in the United States.

So, am I crazy?  Did you know that you can walk into Chinese restaurants and ask for a different menu than what is normally served?  Have you done this before?  Is it only Chinese restaurants that have this thing going on?

Now, if only Indian restaurants would get on board with this concept.

Let's start a movement, folks.

May 11, 2011

Terminal Frost

Pink Floyd, A Momentary Lapse of Reason 1987

The frost?  Has been my brain, as of late.  Manoj has been traveling to California every other week since the end of March.  Have I mentioned that here yet?  No?  So, he travels during the week for the Job That Pays Actual Money, then comes home on the weekend to work on His New Business Venture, Part Quatre.  I guess I could complain about it except for the fact that I am too busy being grateful that he has had steady work.  Fortunately, his travel began just as my own working gig ended.  Yes, I know I never talked about my experiences "working".   I decided to not poke that particular bear - I learned the hard way in the past that it's better to just keep my trap shut on the subjects of working, not working, staying home, running for the hills, etc.  I always seemed to get punched in the neck no matter how carefully I crafted my words.  Suffice it to say, I was a little relieved when the gig ended, I prefer just "staying" home for now.  However, it was a good experience for me to begin thinking about my options down the road when I have two kids in school full-time and I'm staring into the black eyes of Lucy wondering, "What the hell, NOW?"

Lately, I've zoomed through some good reads - Tina Fey's Bossypants, Kathy Griffin's Official Book Club Selection and Rob Lowe's Stories I Only Tell My Friends.  All of them were such fun, yummy, juicy reads. Go read them now!   Currently, I am reading George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones.

Actually, I have a confession.

I am a wee bit obsessed with the whole Game of Thrones Thing.  It started with the HBO series.  Then, I bought the book.  Now,  I have watched every episode twice, have pored through the "extras" on the HBO site, have scoured the Wikipedia entries and am now working on all the "making of " featurettes via On Demand.   Reading the book is just icing on the cake.  The shocking part to me is that normally, I struggle with reading the fantasy genre.  However, something about this series has really grabbed me - the complex history that Martin created for this world, the compelling characters who live within this world.  LOVE.

Recently, Arun attended a birthday party at a little judo academy - the parents were connected to the academy somehow and now Arun is begging to go back to the academy.  Well played, Judo AcademyParents.  Manoj's new business has to do with colonoscopy prep, which leaves me wondering how I could parlay THAT into a birthday party for Anjali.

Random Snappage

Balancing Act
Thank you little birdie for making my kids giggle.  Their belly laughs are sweet music to my ears.

Flowers in the Basement
The recycling bin is my usual go-to spot for most kiddie artwork, but some things are more "keepier" than others.  Our basement is of the Dark, Scary Cave variety which makes it perfect for hiding all of the artistic glory that Team Chaos can muster.  No worries, kiddos -- I promise your father is not your half-uncle.

Snapping Anjali's Colossal Attitude

Which Only Further Pisses Her Off
Because torturing children is FUN, dammit.

May 6, 2011

The Show Must Go On

Pink Floyd, The Wall 1979

Jenny and her family are collecting books and school supplies for Hackleburg, Alabama, which was recently flattened by a tornado. She is calling it Books for Alabama and her son drew a poster for it:

Jenny had been watching the crisis in Alabama closely and not just because it is her husband's home state.  She had read this article and felt helpless.  But not for long:
By the time I got the kids off to school and returned to the computer to read the article more thoroughly and see the pictures in a larger scale, I had decided we needed to do something. And I wanted my kids to be involved. I can't throw them in the car and drive down there and start handing out water bottles, as much as I want to. But, we can raise some money and do some collections here, which is what I suggested to Drew when he got home from school yesterday afternoon. Because the article was focused mostly on the destruction of the schools there and the students who didn't WANT to go somewhere else, they wanted to go to THEIR school, thank you very much, we decided that thing which we could do is a book drive. But Drew read the article and said, "Mom, we need to do more than just books. They'll need school supplies." That's my boy.
I have already made the ubiquitous donation to Red Cross, but I love that Jenny has provided a way to help that involves actual action. Today, I am making up a flyer and handing it out to my neighbors. If Jenny can put a bin on her porch, so can I.

If you are in the Kansas City area and are interested in donating books or school supplies, please contact Jenny at jennymeade311ATgmailDOTcom.  I am going to throw my name in the pot, in case this gets big, I don't want Jenny overwhelmed  -- you can also contact me at cagey333ATgmailDOTcom.  My schedule is somewhat flexible, so I can do pick-ups.

Thank you, Jenny.  You are always an inspiration.