Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Homemade for the Holidays, Part 2: You CAN Make Your Own Curry Powder—and Authentic Curry

What's the best curry powder? Why, it's the one you can make from scratch at home! Don't settle for some store-bought version that's been sitting on a shelf for lord-knows-how-many years. And many of those are too salty or too spicy or both. Real curry powder is neither. 

To completely clarify, what Indians use when making curry is not actually curry powder (which is apparently a British adaptation), it's garam masala. Garam masala is a mixture of ground, dried spices that can be added to other dishes--a spice blend that gives a short-cut to curry. Most Indian families, I believe, make their own garam masala or at least add their own equivalent spices when making curries. But you can, by buying whole bulk spices and using a coffee grinder, make your own garam masalaand your own curry—easily. Remember--feel free to create your own variations. Enjoy!

The spice blend garam masala is such a beautifully fragrant and amazing thing to createand so easythat I have listed it here as one of the perfect "Homemade for the Holidays" gifts that you can create.

Gather your spices (you can buy bulk spices online cheaply, or, if you are lucky enough to live near an Indian grocery store, that's even better) and assemble them in a large bowl. Toast them in a non-stick or heavy iron pan (such as Le Creuset) by stirring them lightly over medium heat (with NO oil). Toast just until your kitchen becomes fragrant and the spices turn a slightly darker shade
not until everything is crisped! Let cool and grind in small batches. (See Storage below.)

Garam Masala Powder

  • 1/4 cup black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons cardamom pods
  • 1/2 cup coriander seeds
  • 1/2 cup cumin seeds
  • 1 stick of cinnamon
  • A few cloves
  • 2 tablespoons of fennel seeds
  • Turmeric to taste (usually turmeric comes in pre-ground format. It's rare to find it fresh and even more rare to find it dried whole. So for this one ingredient, you'll probably be using it ground. Turmeric is an known anti-cancer agent, so I try to add turmeric as often as I can to many dishes!)
There are dozens of other spices you can add: fenugreek, curry leaves (I use this for fish curry only), asafetida, etc. But if you start with the most important ones: black pepper, cumin, and coriander--you won't go wrong.

Grind into a powder and store in glass jars or some other container that will not impart a flavor to your powder (better to avoid plastic if you can, as your spice blend will eventually taste like plastic). I like those glass jars with the rubber seals and the flip-top lids--you can get at Cost Plus World Markets, Michael's, or a gourmet store such as Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table. Also, SKS Bottle & Packaging has the best selection of anywhere I have seen. Then, simply label and decorate your little jar of spices and present as a lovely homemade gift.

How to Turn Garam Masala into Curry
When making your actual curry, always start with the roux. Use butter or ghee, large quantities of grated ginger root and garlic and pureed onion (blend these in a blender with a small amount of water, if desired). Cook and stir until the mixture turns light caramel color, and then add your other ingredients (meat, veggies, garam masala that you made, etc.). Use several tablespoons of your garam masala in your curry roux mixture and ENJOY! Don't be stingy with your powder
it takes a lot of spices to make a good curry! Cook only until the mixture tastes melded (e.g., you don't detect raw onion flavor and the meat is cooked through). You cannot make an authentic curry without starting from a roux. Just throwing in garam masala does not a curry make (oh, how few Western chefs understand this point).


Homemade for the Holidays Series

Part 1: Pistachio Bark

Part 2: Curry Powder (Garam Masala)

Part 3: Chocolate Truffles 

Part 4: Peppermint Bark

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Homemade for the Holidays—Part 3, Chocolate Truffles

Sure, there are chocolate bon-bons—those chocolate candies with mystery ingredients inside. But hard-core chocolate aficionados prefer truffles. Chocolate inside, chocolate outside—all the more chocolate to enjoy. But don't settle for the standard-issue dessert truffles—go for the gusto by making your own—and then wrapping your delectable creations in food-safe tissue paper, placing in and an elegant box, and tying all with a festive ribbon. You have a perfect and elegant hostess gift or gift for a loved one that says, "Enjoy and be happy" with both heart and pleasure in the mix.

Homemade Truffles
Homemade truffles will not look as glamorous as ones you might find at a chocolatier, but they will be made with love—by you, and are therefore far more wonderful. Again, dress your creations up in elegant wrapping (Try Nashville Wraps online and Cost Plus World Market [to check store locations], and Michael's for wrappings for homemade food gifts) and deliver with pride.

Here's a quick and simple recipe—the results will astound both you and the object of your affections. Plus, there will be plenty left over to take to work and amaze everyone there. Enjoy! Recipe makes about five dozen 1" truffles.

1 pound bar of artisanal bittersweet baking chocolate. (Do not use chocolate chips—your truffles will not taste authentic. Search for gourmet bulk baking chocolate, like Ghirardelli or Callebout or Scharffenberger or Valrhona. Trader Joe’s and Fresh & Easy both have wonderful Belgian 72% cacao content bulk chocolate for $4 a pound--can't beat that!)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons vanilla (You can also substitute liqueurs, such as Chambord, Limoncello, or my all-time favorite, Grand Marnier, but rest assured, your truffles will not taste alcoholy—the liquor blends in perfectly and acts just like vanilla, only with a twist. Your truffles will be safe for children to consume. Vanilla has as high an alcohol content as the equivalent amount of liqueurs, so your call. If using liqueur and you DO want to taste the alcohol, you can UP the content of liqueur to as much as 4 tablespoons--but no more than that or it will make your ganache flabby.)

Shredded unsweetened coconut or chopped, unsalted nuts to roll truffles in. I recommend pistachios, cashews, hazelnuts, or macadamia nuts. Our family favorite is unsweetened coconut, which you can find at Indian stores or in gourmet or health food stores such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. If you can find only sweetened coconut, well, it will still be delicious, but unsweetened is more sophisticated. If you use nuts, make sure to get unsalted.)

Half-fill a pot with water. Place a bowl (or another pot) over the boiling water (thus creating a double-boiler, if you don't have one). Melt the chocolates in the upper bowl, stirring to mix the chocolate (taste, if desired). When the chocolate is melted, add in the butter, vanilla (or liqueur) and mix thoroughly. Add in a dollop of heavy cream, stirring it in well before adding another dollop. When the cream is well–mixed, remove the chocolate, cover the bowl, and refrigerate it for several hours or until the mixture is firm enough to hold its shape (you may need to refrigerate overnight).

Spread out a sheet of parchment paper on the counter (or plastic wrap). Scoop up about a tablespoon of the chocolate and roll into a 1" ball, rolling between your hands to make a nice rounded shape (like making meatballs). Roll the truffle in a plate with the coconut or chopped nuts to coat the outside evenly. Place the coated truffle on the parchment paper. Continue in this way until all the chocolate is gone (be sure to sneak a few for taste-testing and quality assurance).

Ganache in makeshift double boiler
These simple truffles get such rave reviews, I’ve actually been offered money for them (one dollar each!). Have also made $43 selling them at our school's bake sale using around $10 worth of ingredients. The secrets are using the high-cacao content artisinal chocolate. That and the subtle coconut and the fancy liqueur make these truffles a to-die-for gift.


Homemade for the Holidays Series

Part 1: Pistachio Bark

Part 2: Curry Powder (Garam Masala)

Part 3: Chocolate Truffles 

Part 4: Peppermint Bark

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Comfort Food with a Twist: My Dinner Party for Six Food and Wine-a-philiacs

  • Duck paté and artisinal hand-crafted cheese plate with cornichons
  • Fresh crab cakes fried in olive oil, served with soy-sesame-mayo and bread-and-butter pickle sauce
  • Sweet free-range chicken mole poblano served over steamed Jasmine rice, with five optional condiments (it took me five hours to make the mole--grinding the many peppers and spices, deboning the chicken. I used Abuelita's Mexican chocolate this time, which adds sweetness.)
  • Mixed greens garden salad with pear-parmesan dressing
  • Homemade cheese bread with butter
  • Haricot verts stir-fry with Black Forest ham bits and Bragg Liquid Aminos
  • Blueberry tart with butter crust
  • Mixed dark and white chocolate pomegranate (I used the pomegranate compote I made as Christmas presents--it worked beautifully) ice cream
  • Decaf cappuccino, made from Second Chance coffee
  • Sparkling water
  • Cocktails (Hendrick's cucumber martinis and lemondrop martinis)
  • Clendenen Family Vineyards, 2004 Pinot Noir
Wish I had photos from our event, but you would see mis-matched plates, a furry white dog, and lots of sappy grins (the wine was superb!). Also, our five-year-old was bebopping around, like the human jester she is. We had leftover mole for supper the next day--methinks it was even better.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Almond Flaxseed Rolls for Your Thanksgiving Feast

Lovely little girl checking out a basket of my Almond Flaxseed Rolls
While not especially sexy, flaxseed is good for us humans—all that DHA in the flaxseed oil does our brains and nerves good. And any excuse to substitute a little plain flour for almond meal is good, too—higher protein and less gluten. That's why I put these ingredients together. After literally making hundreds of loaves of boring white bread, I realized that with these two tweaks, I could make healthier—and still yummy—bread. Perfect for Thanksgiving feasts. Enjoy!

3 1/4 cups unbleached wheat flour
1 cup almond meal (can get at Trader Joe's or Bob's Red Mill brand)
1/2 cup ground flaxseed (Bob's Red Mill or Viva Labs brands are great)
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup raw sugar (or any sugar, really--raw just tastes great!)
1 1/3 cups water
2 tablespoons buttermilk powder
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons yeast

The dough balls on a pizza stone sprinkled with semolina
  1. Warm up the water gently in a microwave--only until it is about body temperature. Add the yeast. Stir and set aside. 
  2. Mix the dry ingredients together. Set aside. 
  3. Melt the butter in a microwave and add it to the dry ingredients. Stir in the yeast-water and mix and knead the dough. Let rise an hour (the first rise). 
  4. Knead the dough again. Let rise an hour (the second rise). 
  5. Drizzle olive oil on the dough (to make it easy to handle) and divide the dough into 24 golf-ball sized rolls. Roll each dough bit until it is fairly uniform (don't obsess). If you have a pizza stone or baker's stone, sprinkle it with corn meal or semolina flour. Let rise one hour (the third and final rise). 
  6. Bake at 375 for 18 to 20 minutes.
The finished rolls

  • This is a great recipe to throw everything in a bread machine on the Dough cycle and push the Start button. The proportions are for a large-sized loaf or 24 rolls.
  • If you prefer loaves to rolls, this recipe will make two smallish loaves.
  • If you don't have a baker's stone or pizza stone, use a baking sheet—the crust won't be as chewy, but that's okay too.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Miso Soup Demystified

Quick—how do you make miso soup (miso shiru)? Do you think it involves adding miso paste to water? That's what I thought too, back when I first moved to Japan. And I could not figure out why my miso soup didn't taste like the miso soup I was served in restaurants and homes. It was missing that savory something . . . When I finally got my hands on an English-language cookbook (one I still rely on today, 20 years later: Keiko Hayashi's, Try It, You'll Love It, available used on Amazon.com), I found out the secret missing ingredient. Not tofu, not wakame seaweed, although those are essential too. No, what was missing was dashi. Dashi is a soup stock based on fish and the heavy seaweed called kombu. Dashi is to Japanese cuisine what chicken stock is to western cuisines. It goes in too many dishes to count. If you can make dashi, you can make not only authentic miso soup, but also many more Japanese dishes, ramen broth, and other soups and stews (nimono). Dashi is home base and all it takes, to play ball is having the ingredients on hand.

First, go to an Asian grocery store or look in the Asian foods section of your supermarket. Buy a packet of kombu (or konbu) seaweed. It's thick, flat strands of very salty, unappealing-looking seaweed. The flavor is mild, though, and it adds a bit of thickness (kombu must be rinsed and cut to fit before use). Kombu is also super-healthy and will not spoil.

Also, buy a pack of bonito flakes. Bonito is a tasty, savory fish with a big flavor. It's shaved or flaked and packaged in miso soup individual packets--or in larger packets. Known as katsuo in Japanese, and katsuobushi for the flaked bonito. Why use bonito specifically? Well, you need a fish base and bonito flakes are an easy, no fuss way to get it.

Another well-know method to get fish base is to use dried sardines, known as niboshi (warning: niboshi have eyeballs and bones and a strong smell--this may freak you out a bit) and soak them in water and then strain.

I prefer bonito flakes. They smell good and taste great--plus you can use katsuobushi in other dishes (it's great on cold tofu, for instance).

With the secret dashi ingredients in your cabinet, along with miso, tofu, shiitake mushrooms and green onions (optional), and wakame seaweed, you are ready to roll with authentic miso soup. If you buy dried shiitake and bulk miso paste, you'll have all the miso soup ingredients except for fresh tofu on hand and ready--they don't go bad years.

Authentic Miso Soup
6 cups water
1 four-inch piece kombu, rinsed
6 tablespoons miso, white or red
1 10-ounce package silken tofu, cut into half-inch cubes
1 tablespoon wakame seaweed
1/2 cup bonito flakes (katsuobushi, shaved roasted skipjack tuna)

Optional Ingredients
3 to 5 shiitake black mushrooms, stems discarded and sliced thinly, optional
Thinly sliced green onion tops, optional (can cut with scissors)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger root

Boil the water and add the kombu to the pot to soak. Pour the katsuobushi into the pot and let everything boil for a few minutes. Remove the kombu and strain out the katsuobushi, so that all you have left in the pot is a clear broth. Add in the cubed tofu and shiitake, and then boil for a few minutes. Turn off the burner, and get a soup ladle and a spoon handy. Put half of the miso into the soup ladle. Add in some of the soup and use the spoon to mush it and stir it until all the miso lumps are dissolved and you have a thick slush. Add this to the soup and do the same for the last half (making sure there are no lumps in the soup--miso lumps are salty!). Lastly, add in the wakame and serve (the wakame expands before your eyes--cool!).

If you need to reheat miso soup, do so slowly--you do not want to cook the miso, as it will lose flavor. Miso soup is great for breakfast the next day--add in a beaten egg and stir just to cook. Hearty and yummy!

  • You can vary the size of this recipe as you like--the rule of thumb is one tablespoon of miso per one cup of water (8 oz.) 
  • Also, most miso soup is served with thin slices of raw green onion floating on top. I don't usually bother with the green onions because I prefer onions cooked better than raw, but feel free to experiment with it, keeping the quantity small until you see what works for you. The onions should be a minor side flavor and not domineering.
  • If you to want to add other ingredients--clams, muscles, carrots, daikon, potatoes, etc., be sure to cook the ingredients, set aside, and then add them to the finished miso soup. Sounds crazy, but again, once you "cook" miso, some of the beneficial bacteria and the flavor is lost. 
  • We love kombu in our house, so I often remove the cooked kombu. slice it into thin strips, and add that back into the soup for extra body.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What Do I Do with Quinoa?

You read an article in MSNBC, called Five Foods to Maximize Your Muscle Power. It recommends eating quinoa (pronounced keen-wah). Quin-what? Or maybe you actually have a package of quinoa lurking in your cupboard and you haven't gotten around to fixing it because you think, what is it and will it even taste good? Or maybe, like me, you have it, you make it very occasionally and you think, ho hum--just another grain.

Well the truth is, quinoa is worth taking another look at. It's one of the few grains that is high in protein. One of the few grains that is rich in all the amino acids needed to build muscle. If you are a vegetarian, quinoa should become a grain in your dietary rotation (like rice, oatmeal, wheat).

But wherever you are in the quinoa awareness continuum, do you have any great ideas about what to do with the stuff? Well, here are a few. If you know of more, please let me know and I will add them.

  • Add in when making bread--it's barely noticeable but adds protein and moisture
  • Cooked, as a cereal, with fruit, yoghurt (as you would eat oatmeal)
  • As the basis for pilaf, pullao, perlo--however you wish to spell it (as you would rice, although quinoa does not fry well)
  • Toss into soup, it adds a richer texture, but hardly any flavor change
  • Add to salad (as a substitute for bulgher in tabouleh, for instance, or like pasta, otherwise)
  • Mixed in with a casserole for extra protein (in pot pies, for instance)

The way my family likes it best is as a pilaf and thrown into soups. But do experiment.

Also, if you like quinoa, there are a few basic things to know.

  • Don't buy in puny little packages at exorbitant prices from Whole Foods or Trader Joe's or other well-meaning health-food stores. Quinoa should be cheap and plentiful if you know where to look. I recommend buying it in one- or five-pound packages from BulkFoods.com (which is a great source, by the way, for lots of spices, dried fruit, and beans for sprouting, too).
  • Rinse before using. But, because the grains of quinoa are so small, you have to use a fine mesh strainer to keep from losing your grains. Rinsing gets rid of risidual bitterness.
  • Cook in a two-to-one proportion, with two parts water to one part quinoa
  • Quinoa works just like rice in a rice cooker
  • You can cook a batch of plain quinoa and freeze it for use a bit at a time for breakfasts.

Quinoa Pilaf a la WhatEye8

1 cup quinoa, rinsed
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2 tablespoons ghee or butter
1 large carrot, cubed
1 cup peas
Salt to taste

Add all ingredients except for the peas to a pot. Bring to a boil, and simmer for five minutes. Add the peas, and then turn off the stove and let the pot sit, covered, for fifteen minutes. Fluff before serving.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Pan-World Cuisine: or, The Garden Made Me Cook It

Not sure what the kind of cooking I do is called--Pan-World Cuisine? Lots of Asian and Indian, but really, all rolled around what's growing in the garden now. The garden TELLS me what to cook. Lately, that's a lot of squash!

Earlier this week, I catered a reception for the Architecture Foundation of Santa Barbara. Small and somewhat swank--with a live band (playing quietly--many neighbors), and a vineyard sponsoring. Here's what I made:

  • Indonesian satay chicken skewers with satay dipping sauce
  • Salmon dip with organic carrots and patty-pan squash
  • Italian deli ham-wrapped melon sticks
  • Cheese bread twists
  • Fruit kabobs
  • Watermelon basket loaded with red grapes and decorated with flowers and lemon slices
  • Dark chocolate coconut-rum-laced truffles rolled in unsweetened coconut
  • Shrimp cocktail platters--one with a homemade soy-sesame dip and one with a tomato-based wasabi and smoked paprika dip

I stayed for the first part of the event--just to make sure everyone liked the food. My hubby closed the party down, though, and reported every spare morsel was devoured--all but the watermelon basket itself (contents were eaten). Success! Too bad it was a donation, but I'm not at the pro level.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Bruschetta: Summer Garden on Toast—a Kid-friendly Treat

If you are a frequenter of Italian restaurants, chances are that at some time or another, you've eaten this simple and simply fantastic appetizer. Tomato salsa spooned onto crostini, fondly known as bruschetta. (Be sure to pronounce it brew-SKEH-tah--with a K sound. I often hear servers mistakenly say, brew-SHET-ah.) But if you have a summer garden, bruschetta has got to be one of the simplest ways to get your family to eat their veggies.

Bruschetta must have originated during that short time during the summer when a garden yields up its most wonderful fruit, tomatoes. At about that time, oregano and basil are also jamming. So the first bruschetta maker must have tossed these three magical parts together and thrown it on toast. What could be simpler and yet more of a crowd-pleaser, with the taste of sunshine and languid summer days in every bite?

Bruschetta is also simple for kids to make and to enjoy eating. My six-year-old helped by brushing olive oil on the bread and by chopping tomatoes with a butter knife. So call the youngsters in and let them help out in the kitchen.

Garden Bruschetta

Crostini First
Slice a good loaf of Italian bread into thin (1/2 inch) slices, and then further cut each slice in half, if needed, to make palm-sized or smaller pieces. Brush with olive oil and arrange on a baking sheet. Toast at 350º F for 15 minutes, or until lightly toasted.

Tomatoes Second

Chop fresh, vine-ripened heirloom, cherry, and other tomatoes to make three cups of salsa. Gather basil and oregano leaves from the garden. Chop into small pieces and add to the tomatoes, along with one clove of crushed garlic. Lastly, season with olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste. It the salsa is too liquidy, feel free to drain it a bit--too much liquid makes the crostini soggy.

Build It Yourself
Put the salsa in one bowl with a slotted spoon (which helps drain it), and the crostini in another. Guests then spoon their own salsa onto pieces of crostini.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Easiest, Quickest, Most Delicious Gourmet Entree on Earth—and You Get All the Credit!

Let me be the first to share this deceptively simple, super fast, and incredibly delicious main dish with you. Perfect for a summer supper. You can make it so quickly and so beautifully and it never fails to pack a very big punch. For effort versus wow factor, this dish is supreme. And, I am proud to say, I made it up. Yes. You may read the recipe and think, this can't be right, and surely it can't be that fantastic. Oh, but it is. If you don't like this dish, then I'll give you your money back. Well, at least I'll be completely shocked, because everyone loves these babies.

I call it,

Tumerica's Whiskey Prawn Kabobs (Kebobs)

  • 1 pound of large shrimp or prawns, must be raw and in shell (frozen is fine—but make sure you get the raw kind and not the precooked kind--you want the shrimp raw in order to absorb the marinade. You also want the shells on so that when you grill the shrimp, the shrimp will remain juicy. It's all-too-easy to make shellfish too dry. Making it juicy? Now that's the trick.)
  • 2 tablespoons whiskey or bourbon (you could use cognac if you really want a fancy treat)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce (not the low-sodium kind)
Put all ingredients in a large freezer resealable plastic bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes but no more than an hour or so.

Double-skewer the shrimp or prawns one at a time by running the first skewer through one side of each shrimp. Then, insert a second skewer, parallel to the other. Load either three or four shrimp per kabob, with the shrimp tails lined up all on the same side. The double-skewer method keeps the shrimp nicely shaped and flame-kissed all along the body of the shrimp. Plus, the shrimp don't roll on a single skewer, and flipping them is a breeze. Makes a good-looking presentation, too. [Sorry I do not have a photo of this—I'm working on it!]

Grill quickly over medium heat, turning once, until the shrimp turn pink and are cooked through, for a total of about three minutes to five minutes (it does not take long).

Serve over steamed jasmine rice with a fresh garden salad. Healthy, fast, low-fat, delicious—now aren't you smart?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Anti-Cancer Turmeric Yummy Foods

My girlfriend was diagnosed with cancer. Her physician told her to eat more turmeric. Turmeric, also sometimes spelled tumeric. The bright, yellow-orange powder you find in the spice section of your grocery store. Or better yet, in bulk at Indian grocers. Also known as curcumin and now used in many beauty and health food products. She asked me how to use turmeric--what foods to put it in. As a confessed lover or turmeric--I even go by the penname, Tumerica, based on the spice--that was an easy one. I rattled off three or four recipes.

More recently, my husband was "prescribed" by his dermatologist (Dr. Madelene Heng, who is also a genius inventor) to use a skin product called Psoria-Gold, which contains--you guessed it--turmeric (curcumin).

All of this got me thinking. It turns out the reputed health benefits of turmeric are astounding. Here are just a few:

  • Antibacterial
  • Prevention of cancers
  • Liver detoxification
  • Slowing of Alzheimer's disease
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Slowing of multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Increased fat metabolism
  • Anti-arthritic
  • Increased wound healing

Turmeric sounds so healthy, you'd think someone was making it up--as close to a panacea as the Earth has ever known. But don't take my word on it--do a little research. If even part of what turmeric is reported to do is true, then it's worth it.

As to the flavor of turmeric, it is similar to mustard--slightly bitter, warming and bright in the nose. Turmeric comes most often ground, unlike coriander, cumin, and ginger, the other common curry spices. It's hard to find whole turmeric, which is a root that looks a lot like ginger and is in the ginger family. Turmeric tastes better cooked in with savory flavors than it does by itself.

If you don't have turmeric in your spice cabinet, I recommend you add it to your shopping list right away and start working it into soups and stews and pilafs as soon as you can.

Here are a few dishes you can toss turmeric into, enjoy eating, and do your body a flavor, er, favor.

Pimp My Pilaf OR Turmeric Rice Pilaf (Add 2 tablespoons each butter and ground turmeric to one and a half cups jasmine rice, 1 teaspoon chicken stock concentrate, and 2 cups water. Cook until absorbed, around 20 minutes.)

Curry Powder (Garam Masala)

Curry Stew (Turkey or other Meats)

Cauliflower Curry Soup (Cold or Hot)

Lentil Stew (Coconut Lentil Curry)

Curried Shish kebabs (Lamb or Other Meats)

Curried Meatballs

Curried Deviled Eggs (Add turmeric, cumin, coriander, and mayonnaise to the cooked, mashed yolks and pipe back into the sliced hard-boiled whites.)

If you have suggestions for incorporating turmeric into foods, please let me know and I will post them!

Friday, May 04, 2012

Easy Gourmet: Homemade Ice Cream—How About "Lavender White Chocolate" Tonight?

Ice cream? You betcha! I love ice cream, just like everybody else. I love homemade, just like everybody else. I love saving money, just like everybody else. Well, I finally decided to put my passions where my mouth is. For Christmas, Santa (aka, me) brought our family an ice cream maker. I've wanted one for a long time. Now, ice cream makers come in three types: the kind where you add ice and salt; the kind where you store the container in the freezer and then plug it in; or the kind where you just plug it in. I found that the ice-and-salt kind makes ice cream that's a bit too soft. The plug-it-in kind works great but costs a fortune. So I chose the container-in-the-freezer option and bought a Cuisinart ice cream maker for about $50 (you can get them for about $35 now).

Ice cream is so ridiculously easy to make yourself; really, the only barrier is you. Plus, when you make it yourself, you don't add icky ingredients like guar bean gum and carrageenan, do you? Artificial flavors and colors? Didn't think so. You get pure-as-grandma's-sheets-hanging-out-to-dry ice cream. And surprisingly, homemade ice cream is a good bit cheaper to boot. So why not make it? Are you scared? Don't be—it's no big deal and the kudos-to-effort factor is huge (you get gigantic rewards in the way of oohs and ahhs with little energy in the making).

And probably the most fun thing I have found about having an ice cream maker is the chance to experiment. No reason to feel stuck to the same ol' vanilla, chocolate, strawberry routine, or the other extreme of rocky-road-über-chunk-cookie-dough-kitchen-sink flavor. You are the master of your flavors and with a few simple rules of thumb, you will be creating your own ice creams with exotic names like "Cherimoya Custard," "Blueberry with Blueberry Maple Syrup," "Lychee Sorbet," "Cranberry Candied Pecan" and collecting all the praise that you so rightly deserve.

So let's get started. The instructions below are for the Cuisinart ice cream maker. If you have a different size, adjust accordingly. The idea is that you are creating from rules of thumb and not cast-in-stone recipes. Dare to show flare! Invite some perpetual kids over and have fun!

Homemade Ice Cream Rules-of-Thumb
  • Use a total of about four cups of dairy. The more heavy whipping cream you use, the richer your ice cream. The more whole milk you use, the lighter your ice cream. If you use all whole or skim milk, you do run the risk of having a crystallized effect (crunchy ice cream). If you use all whipping cream, you run the risk of having ice cream that is too crumbly--it will taste great, but the texture will be too dry. Better ice creams are velvety smooth. I recommend using either half 'n half or some proportion of whole milk to heavy whipping cream that suits your preferences. This is ice cream, after all. It's not a diet food—it's a food of love and joy and summertime and smiles. If dieting is a challenge, enjoy a smaller amount and feed the rest to your loved ones (this stuff is rich—you will not want to gorge on it). When you make small batches like this Cuisinart ice cream maker makes, there's not a lot left over anyway. So four cups total: I usually do three cups heavy whipping cream and one cup whole milk. You can also make half a batch, and then, eat only super-fresh ice cream
  • Where you can cut back, diet-wise, is on the amount of sugar you use. Most ice cream recipes call for a humongous amount of sugar (1 cup or more for this amount of ice cream!). I recommend  uding less, from 1/2 cup sugar on the light end to 3/4 for four cups of dairy. You could also substitute maple syrup, honey, stevia extract, and more, but use less if it's more sweet, e.g., honey is extremely sweet so you'd need less than 1/2 cup of honey. (Honey is surprisingly delightful in ice cream.)
  • If you are using sugar, I recommend raw or turbinado sugar because it's the most nutritious and because it tastes heavenly! With sugar, though, you cannot simply throw it into the ice cream maker. You will have to "melt" the sugar before adding it. That way you do not get crunchy sugar granules to ruin the texture of your confection. What works for me is to put the granulated sugar in the microwave with a small amount of the milk/cream you are using for your ice cream and heat it until the sugar dissolves. Then, store the hot sugar/cream mixture in the refrigerator until ready to use.
  • If you are using chocolate and want the ice cream smooth, then melt it before stirring it in. When you stir the melted chocolate into the other ingredients, do so outside of the ice cream maker. If you take an ice-cold ice cream maker container and pour melted chocolate into it, your chocolate will immediately harden, and you’ll get crunchy ice cream (if that’s what you like, go for it!). But mix the chocolate with the dairy and then pour it into the ice cream maker for smooth, blended ice cream.
  • Use about 1 tablespoon of either vanilla extract (which is basically booze and vanilla) or some other kind of liquor. Good ones are Grand Marnier, Limoncello, Rum, banana liquor, Frangelica, etc. Don't use too much liquor or your ice cream will get overwhelmed (unless that's the effect you desire!).
  • Other ingredients are optional, such as fruit or fruit mixtures, dark chocolate, white chocolate, nuts, etc. But the important thing to remember is that if you are adding fruit, make sure the fruit is cut into small enough bits that if you bite on a frozen fruit bit you aren't going to lose a tooth. Smaller bits really are better. If you throw big chunks of fruit in, you'll regret it! The ice cream maker will not chop them up for you unless the fruit is very soft (like raspberries). I did this once with big peach slices and found it nearly impossible to eat—big fruit chunks in ice cream are rock-hard!
  • If you like a custardy ice cream, then cook your beaten egg yolks along with a small amount of the liquid, stirring over low heat frequently until the egg mixture is smooth. Then add the egg mixture to the rest of the liquid—while still outside of the ice cream maker. Once everything is mixed thoroughly, add it to the ice cream maker. Mark Bittman, of “How to Cook Everything” fame—whom I admire and adore—believes no ice cream is real ice cream unless it has egg in it. He’s a purist. For me, custard ice cream (French style) is one category, and regular ice cream is another. I prefer regular, but, as they say in Japan, “Juu-nin, tou-iro.” Or “Ten people, ten colors.” In other words, to each his own.
  • Feel free to dip a spoon in while the ice cream is cranking to taste if you need to adjust the recipe.
  • After making your ice cream, freeze it for a while in the freezer before serving. Why? Because homemade is somewhat softer than store-bought ice cream. You may get a good consistency or you may not. But if you run the ice cream in the machine until it is finished—about 20 to 30 minutes, then freeze for an hour or so, you ice cream will be the perfect consistency—scoop-ready!
That's basically it! So here's my freebie to you—my own invention, I am proud to say—and so delicious it could win you admirers or even paramours. Certainly the neighborhood kids will follow you around expectantly after one taste of this! Enjoy.

Lavender White Chocolate Honey Ice Cream
Three cups heavy whipping cream
One cup whole milk
1 tablespoon culinary lavender seeds (you can get this online or at gourmet markets—lavender is great to have around for other savory foods and for lavender martinis—don’t tell the kids I said that)
1/4 cup of honey
1/4 cup of white chocolate (not "white baking chips," but REAL white chocolate, that is, cocoa butter and flavorings)
1 tablespoon of vanilla

1) Make a tea of a couple of tablespoons of hot milk with the lavender seeds. Let the seeds steep for a few minutes and then strain the seeds off (the seeds are too bitter to make a yummy ice cream addition, but the flavor they add is close to ecstasy!) and reserve the “tea” you created.
2) Melt the white chocolate along with about 1/4 cup of the milk and the honey on a burner at low heat, stirring constantly and removing when the chocolate is melted.
3) Add the chocolate mixture to the lavender tea and the rest of the cream, milk, and vanilla. Stir everything together and pour into the pre-frozen ice cream container.
4) Cover the ice cream maker and turn it on, letting it run for 20 to 30 minutes. After the ice cream is made, remove it to a freezable plastic covered container (Tupperware makes a great one—the Rock 'n Serve, medium deep) and freeze for an hour or so before serving.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Pimp My Pilaf: How to Turn Whatever You Have on Hand into a Fancy Side Dish

My mother made a wonderful pilaf for our family every Sunday night when I was growing up. She called it perlo (it was chicken perlo, and she used a whole stick of butter--no wonder it was delicious), but perlo is just a variant on the word pilaf (also sometimes called pillau, pilau, palau, or pulau). Pilaf is a rice or other grain dish made using soup stock or broth and butter, olive oil, or ghee as well as add-on ingredients to jazz it up.

Other than the grain/stock/oil combo,  variations on the pilaf are infinite.  You can add almost anything in terms of vegetables, fruit, nuts, meat, and/or meat substitutes (tofu, mushrooms). But the  rule of thumb for  add-ons is that they need to be dryish and chopped into small pieces or diced. If you add very moist add-ons, like tomatoes or zucchini, you may need to decrease the liquid proportionately. Also, if your pieces are too large and/or raw, they might not cook fully by the time the grain is finished cooking. The goal is bite-sized, tender add-ons.

Many famous world dishes are actually pilafs. Risotto is a pilaf. So is jambalaya. And paella, and Spanish rice, the tomato-rice pilaf served so often with Mexican entrees. So is arroz con pollo and Indian biryani. In cooking the grain WITH the stock and the oil, the grain absorbs the wonderful salty savoriness as it cooks. Those flavors--and any others you use--permeate each grain. So easy. So good and nothing to it once you get the hang of it.

Tonight I made my family quinoa-almond-raisin pilaf with turmeric [photo, above]. I was making a Mediterranean themed supper (broiled hoki with kalamata/tomato/oregano salsa, and a chopped salad heavy on the sweet peppers and feta cheese), so wanted to round out the salty flavors with a bit of sweet. It was a big hit and simply a matter of throwing the items in the rice cooker, although any sturdy pot will do.

The chart below will provide some ideas for what might be fun, but feel free to pimp your own pilaf.

Choose at least one from each Grain/Stock/Oil:

Grain Stock Oil

Rice, jasmine Chicken Olive

Rice, short grain Beef Butter

Rice, arborio Clam Ghee

Rice, brown Dashi (fish and kombu seaweed) Sesame

Rice, wild Vegetable Peanut

Quinoa Ham

Barley Coconut milk (will not need Oil if using)


Cous-cous, Israeli

Add-ons (Use as many as you like, and ad-lib your own ideas):

Meat/Meat-like Group Veggie
Herb Group Cheese Group
Chicken Celery Raisins Pistachios Chives Gorgonzola
Sausage/wurst Carrots Currants Cashews Oregano Parmesan
Lamb Peas Other dried fruit, diced Almonds Basil Feta
Pork Squash Pineapple Coconut Perilla leaves
Ham Corn Mango Peanuts Garlic
Beef Tomatoes (may need to reduce liquid proportionately) Apples Pumpkin seeds Curry spices
Pork Green beans Pears Pine nuts Ginger
Fish or shellfish, chopped Other beans, pre-cooked

Beef Ripe or green olives

Mushrooms Onions

Fish or shellfish,

Tofu, raw or fried


Monday, March 26, 2012

Hashed Brown Potatoes Demystified

You are in the grocery store, craving the almighty crispy breakfast food, pausing thoughtfully over the frozen foods. Package after package of hashed brown potatoes in every permutation. You reach longingly for a package--you might even buy one. But if you do, when you make it, you think, geez--I spent all that money on this little bit of potatoes. Surely I could do better. Bags of whole potatoes don't cost much. Then, if you try for better--you peel and grate and fry up your own, you get the dreaded Homemade Hash GRAY Mush (HHGM). What went wrong?

Sometimes the simplest things separate the delicious from the lumpen. And hashed brown potatoes are certainly not for the cavalier. But with a few simply--yes, really simple--tricks, your hash brown potatoes will be not just every bit as good but BETTER than the store-bought prepacked processed overpriced frozen ones. And the whole thing is less trouble than it looks.

Crispy Homemade Hash Brown Potatoes
  1. Rinse and peel potatoes--Yukon Gold or other golden variety potatoes are yummier, but any sturdy largish potato variety will do (small potatoes will drive you crazy when you try to peel them--that's the only reason to opt for larger potatoes)
  2. Grate potatoes until completely shredded. This sounds like a lot of work but it's not--potatoes grate beautifully, and you don't need a fancy mandoline or crank grater either--a standard box grater works fine.
  3. Put grated potatoes in a salad spinner or large colander (with holes that are not too big to allow potato shreds to escape) or strainer. Rinse and drain, and then repeat until the water draining from the potatoes is CLEAR. You are effectively washing away the outer layer of starch--the exact starch that will turn your potatoes into HHGM--you have been forewarned!
  4. If you used a salad spinner, spin and drain and repeat until no more liquid escapes the potatoes. This dries them enough to give you a crisping advantage when frying. Otherwise, simply allow to drain and shake to drain excess water. No need to fuss, but dryer is good.
  5. Sufficiently lubricate your sturdy frying pan with oil, pork butter, real butter--your choice--around 3 tablespoons. As to the frying pan, you can use iron, Le Creuset (that's what I like, but anything sturdy will do), or even nonstick--but you probably want to stay away from stainless steel as it's hard to keep potatoes from sticking. Heat the frying pan until water sizzles on it--at slightly hotter than medium heat.
  6. Put the hashed, rinsed, and drained potatoes in the pan and spread them out to maximize surface area. If your layer of potatoes is too thick, it will be harder to get the middle potatoes cooked through without messing with it. A half-inch thickness is a good rule of thumb.
  7. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes WITHOUT MESSING WITH IT. That is, do not disturb the potatoes. Resist the tempation--this is hard, at least for me--to stir them up, toss them around, and otherwise mess with them. Let them be so they can develop a lovely golden crust.
  8. Use a spatula to flip the potato mass over, adding more pan lubricant, as needed (be generous here--hash browns are better with enough fat to make them spectacular).
  9. Repeat step # 7--cook without messing with the potatoes.
  10. Transfer to a plate and enjoy.
Notes: You can always embellish--what we like to do is provide embellishments at the table--little bowls of grated cheese, bacon or ham bits, diced tomatoes, chopped jalapenos, scrambled eggs--as toppings to add on. Also serve with hot sauce for us pepper-heads.