Monday, August 23, 2010

Aarti Is Lovely, Her Food Is Flavorful, But Let’s Have Just A Bit More Kitchen Hygiene And I Apologize In Advance For My Obsession With Madhur Jaffrey

Aarti Parti with Aarti Sequeira

Shouldn’t the name of the show it be Aarti’S party, instead of Aarti Party? Oh wait, I guess they’re doing a spin on Aarti’s delightful blog, Aarti Paarti and her You Tube videos.

The show opens with Aarti (I love her dress) sitting in what looks like a college dorm room. Aren’t those giant neon poppies on the wall from the flower power days of the 60’s? (The flowers on her bright yellow mug even match the wallpaper. That probably wasn’t necessary.)

Her recipes DO look interesting though.

Aarti starts with Indian Style Sloppy Joes. Her knife skills do NOT look up to scratch, but that could be because she doesn’t want to slice her finger off as she’s talking. Also, that’s a HUGE knife.

Oh my, the fake stairway in the background also has a coordinated version of the flowered wallpaper. I would rather have seen just a bit of some gorgeous Indian textiles. They wouldn’t have had to go overboard and be obvious, but Aarti IS showing us Indian-based recipes, so we could have done with a bit of beautiful bling from India.

Aarti chops her ginger and Serrano pepper with that overly large knife and it doesn’t look she she’s getting anything anywhere near fine enough.

Many of Madhur Jaffrey’s (my go-to authority for Indian food) recipes start by making a base of garlic, ginger and onions in the food processor! You want them superfine, because you don’t want to bite into a chunk of ginger or garlic. Also, curries don’t use thickeners like flour, so the puréed vegetables make a wonderful base to the dish and thicken the sauce.

Typically, Madhur will mince the garlic, ginger and onions in a food processor (or blender) using a few spoonfuls of water to loosen the mixture just a bit. That onion puree is sautéed in the pan after the meat is seared and the whole spices are cooked in oil for a sec. Then any liquid ingredients go in before the meat or poultry is returned to the pan and the whole thing is simmered for awhile.

Back to Aarti. She adds her garlic, ginger and Serrano chile pepper mixture to the pan. She says those three things make a triumvirate of Indian ingredients. I guess her onions go in later. I like them as a base to the whole operation.

Aarti tells us she’s using ground turkey. I really like that, because ground beef doesn’t exactly say India to me.

Aarti is excited to talk about spices. She displays them in a really attractive wooden spice holder, a Masala Dabba, which will be familiar to anyone from an Indian home. (Why couldn’t we have more of those touches?) She explains that garam masala is a mixture of many warm spices. I’m glad she does that. If we already know, we can feel superior and if we don’t, we’ve learned something.

She adds the garam masala to the pot.

Oy, I have another little “note” here. Madhur (don’t be annoyed at HER, she’s fantastic) normally adds garam masala at the end of cooking or sprinkles it on the finished dish. It’s interesting that Aarti adds it now.

Paprika goes in. I love that Aarti talks about “blooming” the spices. She says to cook them for 30 seconds only or they will burn. I always cook warm spices on low, low, low for 2 to 3 minutes to get their full benefit, while whole spices go into the hot oil for seconds (according to Madhur). Aarti adds water and tomatoes and cooks the Sloppy Joe mixture for 15 minutes, uncovered.

Aarti is making kulfi which I LOVE. Oh good! She is going to use both evaporated milk and sweetened condensed milk.

She pours the evaporated milk into a pot and adds the leaves from a few Earl Grey tea bags and ground cardamom “because it’s easier”. I do not agree with THAT at all.

There are beautiful whole cardamom pods in her Masala Dabba. She should use them. Plus she has to strain the tea leaves out anyway, so why not use the whole cardamom pod? BTW, if you don’t like Earl Grey tea, just skip it and add 8 to 10 whole cardamom pods.

Aarti brings the evaporated milk mixture to a simmer and then turns off the heat to steep all the ingredients for 30 minutes. It’s interesting that Aarti calls the recipe Kulfi, while the website calls it Creamy Pistachio Pops. I really think we could handle the Indian name.

Aarti finishes up the Sloppy Joes. She adds oil to a pan and then pistachios and raisins. She wants to toast the nuts and plump the raisins. I have NEVER plumped raisins in oil. That’s kind of neat.

She removes the nuts and raisins, adds more oil to the pan and then throws in some cumin seeds. Oh, I DO love roasted or, in this case TOASTED, cumin seeds. Aarti adds chopped red pepper and onions and cooks them until slightly brown.

Back to the Kulfi, Aarti strains the mixture. Definitely, whole cardamom seeds could have been used. She stirs in chopped pistachios, a can of sweetened condensed milk and a cup of heavy cream. She pours the mixture into popsicle molds and puts them into the freezer.

For the Sloppy Joe filling, Aarti takes ground turkey out of the fridge and puts the package down on her big wooden cutting board. Not a good idea.

Next she uses that huge chef’s knife to open the package of ground turkey and puts the knife down on the cutting board. Also not a good idea.

THEN she lays the ground turkey package on the counter, next to the stove top and adds the turkey to the pan. She has now polluted TWO surfaces AND her knife.

I store meat and turkey in the plastic bag from the supermarket. When I’m ready to use it, I lay the package of meat on top of that plastic bag as I’m opening it. (Whatever knife I use to open the package goes immediately into the sink.) After I’ve added my meat or poultry to the pot, pan or bowl, I throw out all the packaging at once and wash my hands before going on to the next thing. That’s obvious, right?

Aarti seasons her onion and red pepper mixture and adds in the ground turkey.

Back from a commercial, we come back to Aarti showing us a bunch of kale on the cutting board. She shows us how to strip the leaves off the stem. Then she rolls up the kale and cuts it into ribbons.

I sure hope that knife was washed before cutting the kale and the cutting board was dealt with, but we don’t see that, so we don’t know for sure.

It would have been so easy to have a separate cutting board on top of the big one and deal with the turkey on that. The bottom of the turkey package is not reliably turkey-juice free.

Aarti adds her ribbons of kale to a big bowl. She rubs a lemon on the board (let’s hope it really is turkey free) and squeezes half of it into the kale and adds some olive oil and salt.

She starts ‘massaging” the kale to break down the fibers. Aarti says to do that for 2 minutes and it will start smelling like bananas. I’d like to try it just to see if that’s true.

Aarti washes her hands and chops a perfect looking mango, telling us in India it’s known as the food of the gods. She adds the mango to the kale with some toasted pumpkin seeds.

She whisks together a dressing from the rest of the lemon, a little honey (from a bear, ugh) and olive oil and tests it on a little piece of mango. Aarti says because the kale is so hearty you can leave it dressed in the fridge for days and it only gets better.

She adds the sauce to the ground turkey.

Aarti toasts the buns for the Sloppy Joes and adds half and half to the turkey mixture with honey and the raisins and pistachios. She puts one together with some salad on the plate. She tastes the salad. Yum.

Oh, that nice dress is actually a top.

Aarti gets the pops from the freezer and dunks them in hot water. She says not to worry about using popsicle molds, just use tea cups. That’s actually a better idea, because these popsicles are so HUGE. She sprinkles on some chopped pistachio nuts. Lovely looking.

It’s hard to believe that Aarti is already so polished. They did a great job of putting this show together. Aarti is charming and she was obviously told to laugh and smile freely. I like her. I like the recipes. I could do with fewer flowers on the walls and less cross-contamination, but this first episode of Aarti Party was a solid 7.999 out of ten. They definitely made the right choice.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I just can't get into a show called Aarti Party. It reminds me of that rhyme we used tease kids named Artie with in school:

Artie Farty had a party all the kids were there.
Inky Pinky laid a stinky all the kids went out for air.

It's not a terrific insult though, because if Artie Farty had a party and all of the kids were there, then Artie Farty must have been a pretty popular guy. Even with his rather flatulent name, it was the mysterious Inky Pinky and not Artie Farty himself who laid the stinky.

And such is my brilliant TV review!

Java Joggers said...

That's so funny -- your method of using the plastic grocery bag to place the package of meat on, and then throwing the knife you opened the package with in the sink right away is exactly what I do:)

Sue said...

Those poor little Artie's in your school! I admit that rhyme occurred to me too, but I would never have admitted it. I don't know why but that to me is a much worse "F" word than the usual one. I have no problem slinging f words around, but not the one that rhymes with Artie.

Great minds...Don't most people do that, though? I'd like to think I was special, but I kinda hope, in this case, everyone handles meat that way.

Tracy said...

I think the name of the show is silly, but I like her and I liked the show. I think she did a good job on the first show, even with a few missteps in terms of food handling. I definitely want to try that kale salad.

Anonymous said...

I'm totally impressed with Madhur Jaffrey every time I see her on TV. She's a real pro. The last time was on Sara Moulton's show where she managed to slow Sara down enough to convey important information that we needed. (Not that I don't love Sara's show, but there are times when she doesn't let her guests do enough talking).

Haven't seen Aarti yet, but I'm not hearing great things except for you, Sue, so I guess I'll have to get to the gym so I can watch at the right time Sunday.

Matt Kay said...

Great post! Regarding her cross contamination:
I see chefs do this all the time. I've seen Bobby Flay handle chicken, wipe his hands on a towel and then fling it over his shoulder. Of course he's grilling and doesn't have a sink but still.

This is a major peeve of mine. I had a girlfriend that used to open bags, boxes, cans and packages as she cooked. You could find them scattered all over the counter under cutting boards and dishes.

I'm not a germa-phobe but that is just really unsanitary and I went through LOTS of bleach.

Sheila said...

I'm with you on how to handle raw meat! It just creeps me out.

I didn't catch the show - but I loved your recap! I'll add it to the DVR so I can check it out.

Phyllis said...

I was so excited when Aarti won, I was definitely rooting for her. And I'm not sure why the foodnetwork producers totally ignore the cross-contamination stuff when it's so important, I think I've seen Rachael Ray do the same thing with her cutting board on 30 minute meals. And "creamy pistachio pops" instead of kulfi- gimme a break! We can totally handle the Indian name.
ps. I do the exact same thing as you with the plastic bag when I handle raw meat :)

Sue said...

I thought Aarti did great and can only improve.

I really do love Madhur Jaffrey. Her not-new Invitation to Indian Cooking in one of my favorite cookbooks.

Who’s saying bad things about Aarti? Maybe they didn’t like the Americanization of her cooking style with her Sloppy Joe’s. Hopefully, they’ll let Aarti be Aarti and not be afraid to do some more authentic things.

Hi Matt,

It’s so strange, isn’t it? Do they forget they’re on television? And rather than being MORE casual about kitchen hygiene, they should be even more scrupulous.

Hi Sheila,
Let me know what you think.

Hi Phyllis,
I think Aarti will be a great addition to the Food Network. I’m surprised RR doesn’t use the whole cross contamination issue as a way to sell more neon-colored cutting boards.