Monday, August 2, 2010

On Disorganization, And A 'Danger! Danger! High Voltage' Curry

Recently, I came across the now-vintage Better Homes And Gardens cookbook that my mom used all the time when entertaining. It had this picture on the back, illustrating two different sorts of hostesses. My sister and I used to look at it and ponder which sort of hostess we would be, based on whose outfit and kitchen we liked better.

Exhibit A:

"An organized hostess who is prepared when guests arrive."

Look at her. She's a vision. Cocktails ready to go, salad being gently tossed for equal distribution of vegetables per serving, immaculate kitchen. How she can even stand upright with that tiny waist is a miracle. And that calm, almost smug smile on her face, because she knows her husband Paul has picked up the laundry and probably some fresh flowers for her, because he's that kind of guy, and her son has rehearsed 'Au Claire Du La Lune' on his recorder so she can delight her guests with the accomplished and musical child she's reared. She's not even bothered that Jennifer, whose husband is taking her on a deluxe fall cruise for their anniversary and won't let anyone forget it, is coming. Even though Paul hasn't taken her anywhere for the last 5 years except on a rather long car ride to Buffalo to visit his old college friend, Roger, where he got exceptionally drunk and confessed to having had an affair with her sister.

And then there's Exhibit B:

"An unorganized hostess who should have done some planning."

I want to reach into this picture and move that tendril out of her face because it's probably annoying her. Look at her. She has what appears to be empty toilet paper rolls in her hair and the cat is probably driving her mad because it wants to be fed or just took a big poop and won't leave her alone and she's one step away from hitting it with the saucepan but she's counting to ten. And she's wondering if she should bother finishing with that pie crust she's rolling out, or if she should just feign a migraine, cancel the dinner party and crack open the Merlot and call Paul, even though she knows damn well he's never going to leave her sister.

As someone who is often incapable of making a meal in under 30 minutes due to kitchen dawdling, and as a cat owner frequently counting to ten, I've always felt an affinity with the disorganized hostess.

I'm willing to bet she'd take an inordinate amount of time cutting up and arranging the tofu cubes in pleasing checkerboard patterns.

Or snapping herself rinsing canned peas, even though the recipe calls for fresh shelled...

And then there was the whole 'measuring cumin seeds' thing; she'd get sidetracked by that, for sure.

And as a side note, can I get a 'Hallelujah' for finally, after 4 grocery stores and 10 fruit and veg markets, on an all too blisteringly hot day to be biking down to Roncesvalles, finding these farking chilies?

Disorganized Hostess and I would put everything together and let it simmer in the pan. We'd start to notice the time elapsing and panic a bit...

And when our friend came over for dinner, we'd wash a ball of cilantro for the garnish and wipe the sweat from our brows...

And we'd marvel, her and I, at the miracle of getting a meal together before company arrived. And not because we'd mise en place-ed, but because knowing ourselves like we do, we'd started preparing this meal a good three hours before our friends' arrival.

An organized hostess would never try out a new recipe on a friend. But, with me not being an organized hostess, I did. And while this curry was tasty, I'm sure, I couldn't actually tell since my insides were burning because of that one searingly hot Serrano chili pepper, seeds and all, that had been simmering in the pan, dispersing its volcanically hot heat among the tomatoes and peas. Our eyes watered, our noses ran, and the dollops of cooling yogurt got bigger and heartier in our bowls.

An organized hostess might call the inflaming of internal organs due to an overly spicy curry an unmitigated disaster and go to bed with an intense personal shame. But I, being who I am, would prefer to take an antacid, wrap my hair in empty toilet paper rolls and dream about that deluxe fall cruise instead.

Paneer/Tofu Curry With Peas, from Bon Appetit magazine, April 2010 issue:

2 tbsp all purpose flour
1 pound paneer or firm tofu, cut into 3/4 - 1 inch cubes
5 tbsp ghee (I used olive oil)
1 large onion, cut into 1-2 inch pieces
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp minced, peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp ground coriander
1 Serrano chili, minced with seeds (Seriously, either halve the chili amount or take out the seeds)
1 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes with added puree (I used about 1/3 cup tomato paste)
1/2 cup water
1 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 cups shelled fresh peas or frozen
1 tsp garam masala
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Steamed basmati rice


1. Place flour in medium bowl. Add paneer or tofu and toss to lightly coat with flour. Heat 2 tbsp of the ghee or oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, shake the excess flour from the paneer/tofu and cook till browning in spots, turning occasionally, about 4-8 minutes. Transfer to plate and set aside.

2. Place onion pieces in a food processor and pulse till finely chopped but not watery. Heat the remaining 3 tbsp ghee or oil in the same skillet as before, over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds and cook for 1 minute, stirring often. Add the chopped onion and cook till it begins to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the minced ginger, garlic, ground coriander and minced Serrano chili with seeds (I warn you!) and stir for 1 minute. Add the crushed tomatoes with the puree, 1/2 cup water and turmeric; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until mixture thickens, stirring occasionally; about 15 minutes.

3. Add the peas and the cooked paneer/tofu; gently fold to incorporate and cook over medium-low heat, till peas are tender and the paneer/tofu is warmed through. Fold in the garam masala and the cilantro, season with salt and pepper and serve with the basmati rice.


  1. (I tried to post earlier and lost my comment - BAH!)

    You know that scene when Sybil is reading in bed and hooting out loud, driving Basil mad? That was Hubs and I this morning. I kept chortling with every line. I love this post!!!

    xo mrsbs

  2. Noodle! I'm so happy to make you chortle. And my sincerest apologies to Hubs.
    Love you!

  3. hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm curry is my favourite thing in the world! i think i'll curry-up my cabbage with some paneer this week. thanks for the idea!

  4. well dont mind if i do! That lonely block of paneer in the back of my fridge is finally gone. This is what ive always known as "mattar paneer", had to make a batch for dinner after reading this. My partner is indian so we like to do it spicy - did 3 Serrano peppers w/seeds! and some garlic naans instead of rice.

  5. Leslie, it is one of my favourite things too! Ever since Jamie Oliver showed me (indirectly, through a cookbook, lest I sound nuts) how to make them properly, they've become a staple of my 'comfort food'repetoire. So go and curry that cabbage. I'm sure it'll turn out wonderfully!

    Adam, I tip my cap to you, sir! 3 Serrano peppers with seeds? I am super-impressed! So glad you tried the recipe; I feel quite certain it's a good one. I'd love to try this with paneer next time, and maybe the pepper without the seeds, since apparently, I'm a total hot pepper lightweight!

  6. well, spicy food is a dangerous downward spiral, its like drugs you just have to keep pushing the limits! there was a time when i still had taste buds left and would have found one serrano too much. if you feel bad for your guest think about ours! poor souls
    and the paneer is worth it. i cant stand tofu but i love paneer. its actually pretty easy to make too, just do a quick google search for detailed directions, but its just whole milk curdled with lemon juice and drained in cheese cloth. i usually cheat and buy it but its a fun thing to try

  7. What a great project; making your own paneer! I most certainly will look that up - thanks for the idea!

    And I'll keep working on my serrano tolerance, though I'll be honest, I have my doubts I'll make it to 3!