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.

Preparation
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.

Storage
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).

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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.

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Homemade for the Holidays Series

Part 1: Pistachio Bark

Part 2: Curry Powder (Garam Masala)

Part 3: Chocolate Truffles 

Part 4: Peppermint Bark