Friday, November 30, 2007

No Frills Friday # 2 - Indian Fried Okra

Crusty with besan, dusty with spices--
nothing sticky or icky about it.



Young, tender pod creatures.

Crispy Fried Okra - From the Daawat.Com recipe with special encouragements from Freya's experiments

Ingredients

1 pound okra
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp chaat masala
1 tsp ajwain seeds
1 tsp amchur powder
1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste (from equal measures of freshly grated ginger and garlic)
1/2 cup (a.k.a gram or chickpea flour)
Flavorless oil for frying (such as safflower)
Salt to taste (optional - I used store bought chaat masala and found it salty enough.)

2 tbsp ginger, julienned
5 small green chilies, chopped
Juice of 1 lemon


Method

Cut off both ends of the pods and slit lengthwise into 4 strips each. With a paper towel, carefully dry the open cut sides of each strip. They will be minimally moist. Rub a little ginger-garlic paste on each strip, then toss the strips with a well-combined mixture of all the spice powders and besan. Work quickly to coat all the strips. Separate the strips to keep them from touching each other; this discourages moisture.

Heat 1/2 inch of oil in a large skillet until very hot. Add enough okra strips just to cover skillet bottom without crowding. Separate any clinging strips to promote even frying. Fry until uniformly brown and crispy, turning strips over as needed. Remove strips with a slotted spoon to drain on a paper towel. Repeat with remaining strips. Garnish with the ginger and chilies. Sprinkle with the lemon juice.

Serves 4. --


Repeat after me: "Towel dry, quickly fry...towel dry, quickly
fry...towel dry, quickly fry..."


This post is being submitted to the clever Suganya of Tasty Palettes, creator of the challenging (and "tasty") Vegan Ventures event, featuring creative vegan cooking and baking ideas.

No Frills Friday - Panch Phoron

Bengal in origin, Panch Phoron, the other five-spice mixture:
fenugreek, cumin, nigella, fennel and mustard.



Tantalizingly textured, powerfully perfumed, flagrantly flavored.

Panch Phoron - Inspired by Sandeepa of Bong Mom's Cookbook


Ingredients

2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons fenugreek seeds
2 tablespoons nigella seeds
2 tablespoons brown or black mustard seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds

Method

Combine all ingredients. Store in a sealed container in a dry, dark place. Measures can vary as long as they are equal to each other. --


All dressed up with places to go.


This post is being submitted to Zlamushka of Zlamushka's Spicy Kitchen, hosting "A Spoonful of Christmas," a one-off event featuring comestibles suitable for holiday gift giving.


[No Frills Friday is a semi-regular posting of a few words, a few photos, and one frugal or fancy recipe. Stayed tuned for another posting later today.]

Sunday, November 25, 2007

An Acquired Taste - Licorice Pudding


Move over, My*T*Fine. I’ve never made pudding from scratch before, but now that I’ve pulled it off, there is no going back. Sure, you are très convenient and attractively packaged in that meretricious sort of way that begs attention, that red lipstick lettering and those lush pin-up package illustrations. But despite the flash, there is little substance in that little box of yours, more flavoring and coloring agents than anything wholesome, healthy and refined. If I bought a box of you, I would feel cheap and dirty. So I passed on Times Square and went to the zoo instead. I bought a box of something else; I bought a box with a bear on it.

I’ve always had a weakness for bears. There have been Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington Bear, and Smokey the Bear’s avuncular fire-safety guidance. Teddy bears of varying degrees of stuffed fluff and straggliness are the cherished guests of many a childhood. As we grow up, we exchange our toy friends for the real-deal creatures who share the planet with us, the polar and koala bears, those beloved beasts whose ultimate survival depends on our stewardship of their territories, no matter where in the world we have settled. Yet of all our adult bruin obsessions, none is quite so adored as the panda bear, the playful, bundles of black and white, the good will ambassadors, whose historic gift and exchange breeding programs between China and other countries have led to the common cross-cultural goal of ensuring their endangered populations increase. It’s no surprise then that the most well-known and popular licorice candy in Europe and much of the U.S. should be named Panda.

Panda pieces.

Licorice, a botanical plant of the legume family, has a long history of medicinal and comestible use in many cultures. Licorice sweets are enjoyed in literally hundreds of shapes, textures and flavor varieties. The most unusual to the American palate is the European salted licorice, dominant in The Netherlands, Scandinavia and Germany, which has a generally appalling taste to the uninitiated. My first encounter with Old Timers Hinderlooper Ruitjesdrop lead me to believe I was being stricken with strychnine. This was not the Good ‘n Plenty of my youth. Several years later, when time faded the trauma of that episode, I revisited the treat for a tamer version. While this experience did not fully convert me, it did not revolt me, either, but opened up the possibility that licorice, a flavor I definitely do fancy, was worth pursuing in other desserts. Even so, pudding was not something I had remotely considered. It was too weird to take seriously. Naturally, I had to try it.

Wildly popular in Finland, the base of which is the molasses-rich original all-natural Panda formula, licorice pudding is not as easy an exercise as opening a box and whisking its contents into a bowl of cold milk. Instead, you will have to diligently watch over it, carefully regulating the heat, adding delicate egg yolks, and piling multiple bowls and saucepans into the sink as tall and listing as the Tower of Pisa. It’s not unlike the painstaking and patience procedures of fine French and Italian custards.

After four hours of undisturbed, refrigerated chill, the clouds of cream, now transformed into a golden caramel color, were as voluptuous as loose velvet. It was a bowlful of butterscotch-rich bliss, its licorice liquor a faint and far away flavor that flickers and fades with each spoonful. I cannot entice those cooks who little care for licorice, but I can promise that for those who indulge in its black beauty will find the soft, sweet and comforting luxury of this esoteric dessert very easy to bear.

Licorice Pudding - Adapted from the Epicurious recipe

[N.B. - While the personal pleasures and purported health benefits of licorice consumption are well known, care must be taken not to overindulge. Certain compounds in licorice can increase your risk of hypertension and other ailments. Licorice is not recommended for consumption during pregnancy nor breast feeding, nor for those with diabetes, heart problems, or obesity. Please enjoy your treats in moderation.]
Ingredients

3/4 cup very finely chopped Panda brand black licorice pieces
4 1/2 cups whole milk or lower fat milk
1/3 cup plus 2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons cornstarch
3 large egg yolks

Method

In a large saucepan over medium low heat, melt the licorice in 4 cups of the milk and 1/3 cup of sugar, stirring frequently and ensuring that it does not come to a boil. If milk skin forms on surface, pull off and discard. After 20 minutes, the licorice should be fully melted, turning the milk a light golden brown color; if not, remove from heat and allow the licorice to further melt.

In a small bowl, combine the corn starch (corn flour) with the remaining milk and sugar, then combine with the licorice mixture. Return mixture to heat, cooking over moderate heat until it simmers and mixture thickens as you occasionally stir it. Again, remove from heat.

In a large bowl, beat the 3 egg yolks with the remaining sugar until well blended. Slowly pour the hot milk mixture in a thin stream into the egg yolks, beating well. Return the entire mixture to a clean large saucepan and cook over moderate heat until mixture further thickens and reaches 170 degrees F on a culinary thermometer. Remove from heat and immediately pour hot mixture through a large tea strainer over a large mixing bowl, discarding the strained solids. Gently press and fit a circle of waxed paper onto the top of the hot pudding. Place bowl of pudding in the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 hours. Before serving, remove waxed paper from surface and discard. Distribute pudding into 4 dessert dishes. This rich and flavorful pudding serves 4 very generously. --




This entry is being submitted to Truffle of What's on My Plate?, hosting Weekend Herb Blogging for Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen, creator of this popular weekly food blogging event.

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Been There, Done That ~

Candy
Anise Turkish Delight

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Very Tardy Tag


Back in July, Dani of The Average Cook had tagged me for a meme, one that I have let slide for quite some time. Many apologies and thanks go out to Dani. I’ve given it a food-related spin, the better to whet the appetite:


What were you cooking/baking ten years ago?

Not very much. I’ve been cooking and baking for years, but back then I spent a lot of time and money in restaurants.


What were you cooking/baking one year ago?


A Thanksgiving feast for five with all the trimmings, all from scratch. Times have changed from ten years ago.


Five snacks you enjoy:


Utz Salt and Vinegar Chips
Rosemary crostini
Pappadum
Terra Chips
Franklin’s Crunch ‘n Munch


Five recipes you know by heart:


Marinara and other red sauces
Pancakes and waffles
Tagine with couscous
Basic layer cake with frosting
Pie crust


Five culinary luxuries you would indulge in if you were a millionaire:


A kitchen twice the size with ample storage and counter space
Double the ovens, both of them in the wall at eye level
Professional stovetop with six burners
A small collection of glittering copper saucepans and skillets
Domestic help to scrub the kitchen once a week


Five foods you love to cook/bake:


Cakes
Pasta and sauces
Shellfish
Herbal everything
Soups


Five things you cannot/will not eat:

Pearl tapioca
Blood pudding, sausage…you get the idea.
Soft-boiled eggs
Egg salad
Okra, but that is changing but fast.


Five favorite culinary toys:


Programmable coffee maker AND
The little Bialetti stovetop espresso maker I’ve had for years
Magic Line professional cake pans
A red clay Emil Henry tagine
An immersion blender

I am passing this on to Lucy, Julie, Laurie, Ann, Sylvia, Carnation and Dhanggit with the understanding that no one is under any obligation to participate; let it be only as your interest and time allow. For those tagged and anyone else who would like to play along, please help yourself and be at liberty to customize this meme to suit your taste. --

Sunday, November 18, 2007

No Exit - Swedish Stuffed Potatoes


There’s a point when you look up from all the thousands of items of merchandise that you’ve been sifting through and don’t remember where you are nor how exactly you got there. The space you are in is cavernous, linking showroom, marketplace and warehouse. Even though you are on the second floor, you might as well be in a dungeon, for there are no windows. Even though there are many clocks for sale, not one of them is ticking the correct time. To enter the labyrinth of IKEA is to lose all perspective of place and time. It’s like being in a casino. This is the mega-retailer’s master plan.

Scott and I had been making due with a small dining table tucked into a tight corner of our condo for many months. We’ve entertained around the glazed maple orb, even hosting a Thanksgiving feast for five, despite the fact that the table barely seats four. For the most part, as a couple, we dine on the sofa, the coffee table propping up our dinner plates and utensils. It’s all very newlywed, though technically, we are not newlyweds anymore. The table has ultimately been relegated to the function of catch-all for books, keys, mail and general clutter. With Christmas dinner for six only weeks away, we knew that we could not defer our furniture shopping into yet another year. It was time to bite the bullet and go to IKEA. I dreaded it.


IKEA, as anyone who’s ever visited knows, is a godsend to the economy minded: the college students, first-time homeowners, and retirees who seem to make up the bulk of patrons. It can also be a boon for anyone who wants to carry away their booty without having to squander whole days waiting for a traditional store to deliver your furniture. This is the key draw for me. Unfortunately, you do run the very real risk of squandering just as much time trying to wend your their way through the complex, made even more exasperating by the 360 degree spin of the shopping cart casters, designed specifically, I believe, to slow you down as you try to advance but instead careen sideways into the next display. This can shake even the most determined of buyers who study the online catalog, set their sites on their prey and memorize a schematic of how to navigate the loop. People like me. To be forewarned, however, is to be forearmed. Or so I thought.

After a careful study of our dining table options and an understanding of IKEA’s MO based on a handful of prior shopping expeditions, Scott and I reaffirmed our vow to resist impulse-buy temptations. We deliberately choose to go at dinner time to avoid the crowds, arriving at 6 p.m., with the goal of spending no more than an hour in the brash blue and yellow behemoth.


Our strict schedule was pretty much a success. Though it felt like several days before we got to the car, we had only actually spent ninety minutes there, a little over our allocation, but not enough to scold ourselves for lack of discipline. Our new solid birch mini-tables, enough seating for eight, were stacked in the trunk. My one impulse buy, a Swedish cookbook, was squarely rested in my lap. I had breezed by the pots and pans, the cutlery, the glassware. I had ignored the napkins, wall racks and mixing bowls. I didn’t see it coming; it was just there. Resistance is futile. --

Kroppkakor - Swedish Stuffed Potato Dumplings (adapted from Swedish Cooking by NGV Publishing ) [Yes, after last week’s gnocchi post, it’s potato dumplings again. Sometimes, you just don’t want to escape.]

Ingredients

4 large Russet baking potatoes or other dry, mealy variety
1 egg, beaten
¾ -1 cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon butter or oil
3 cups finely chopped mushrooms
½ cup minced onions
1 tablespoon red wine
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Butter or oil
1 cup freshly chopped parsley

Method

Either bake or boil potatoes until tender. When potatoes are cool to touch, press them through a ricer into a large bowl. Beat egg into riced potatoes until well mixed. Add salt and pepper. Incrementally beat flour into potato mixture until it becomes a stiff but malleable dough. Gather dough into a ball and place on well-floured surface. Mold, press and stretch dough out into a long blocky roll approximately 2 inches wide and 1 inch thick. (Work in multiple batches if your surface is limited.) Cover with a dry dish towel. (If you want larger or smaller dumplings, you can resize the dough to suit your preference. I made mine the size of golf balls.)

In a large skillet, gently cook mushrooms and onions in the butter until soft and shrunken. Turn up the heat to medium, allowing the mixture to brown and crisp, stirring occasionally. Add red wine, salt and pepper, and continue cooking until the mixture resembles dark brown, finely chopped raisins. Remove from heat.

Cut the roll/s of dough at 2 inch intervals, then press a finger to depress the center of each piece of dough. Fill each depression with a little of the mushroom stuffing, cupping the dough in your palm as you close your fingers around it to bring together the edges into a ball, gently pressing and pinching the seams closed. Slightly dampen your hands to shape and smooth each dumpling. Heat a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Gently drop dumplings into water without crowding them. Dumplings are cooked when they rise to the surface. Scoop them out of the water with a slotted spoon to a serving plate. Butter the dumplings then scatter the tops of them with parsley. Serve immediately while hot. Serves 4 generously. --



This post is being submitted to Vanessa of What Geeks Eat..., hosting Weekend Herb Blogging for Kalyn Denny of Kalyn's Kitchen, the creator of this popular food blogging event.

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Been There, Done That ~

Sales Resistance & Potatoes
New England Potato Clam Chowder

Potatoes
Rosemary Roasted Blue Potatoes

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Other People's Eats ~

Where's the Beef? - Potato Pancakes
More Than Burnt Toast - Ranch Mashed Potatoes


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Nettie's Gnocchi - Apples and Thyme



My husband says he doesn’t remember the exact moment when he knew he wanted to marry me, that there was a sweet amalgam of feelings and thoughts collected over a couple of years to an obvious and sparkling conclusion. I beg to differ. I say the idea stuck in his craw when the gnocchi dough I was making stuck to his kitchen counter.


Shaped with a fork


Yet despite all this insouciant bucolic bounty, I was a restless young girl, far from home and friends, at the crossroads of life. I had graduated into the excitement and uncertainty of high school and boys, and the preoccupations of being a teenager took top priority.

It was on one particularly intense late afternoon of ennui that I was casting about for something to do. All the other kids, younger than I, were busy chasing butterflies and doing somersaults on the lawn. I was watching their screaming frolics from the wide window of my aunt’s handsome and comfortable kitchen when Nettie appeared at the doorway.

Antoinette, always known by the nickname of Nettie, was my cousins' grandmother, a short, stout woman with a larger-than-life, bold and blunt personality, a real spitfire in an extended family with a spirited reputation. When she walked into a room, you knew it. I knew it, too, that day.


Shaped with a gnocchi board


I was still slouched against the countertop when she came up to me, and with matter-of-fact directness, asked me if I wanted to learn to make gnocchi. I didn’t know what gnocchi was. Sure, my family frequently ate and loved all the red-sauced Neapolitan classics Americans associate with Italian food, spaghetti, pizza, and baked lasagna. But the spectacular variety and abundance of Italian culinary specialties were things I had not been routinely exposed to. The idea of a hands-on lesson in something new was just the jump start I needed to separate me from my pensive reveries and idle posturing.

Nettie blasted open the cupboards and refrigerator rummaging for provisions, directing me to start my own collection of supplies, the pots and pans, bowls, wooden spoons, and the all-important singular fork. I blinked and the afternoon was over. A tall pot of red sauce was bubbling in that lazy way that only a sauce thickened with time and patience could. Another pot, one filled with water and another sort of bubbling was at the ready. The countertop was a catastrophe of all the creative mess that makes the clean up worthwhile. Nettie and I were hunched over a sprawl of flour, a canvas dotted and spotted with notched dumplings the size of my first thumb joint.

I wish I had written the recipe down, but I was young and loving the moment, no longer contemplating the mysteries of my future as I had been just a few hours earlier. My own grandmother had taught me to play the piano, my mother taught me to identify trees and flowers, and Nettie taught me how to make gnocchi. I need to thank her now, but she is far away. I still don’t know what the future holds for me, but my now mature reveries imagine a time to come when I will have an Italian grandmother for so much longer than just one day.

Nettie’s Gnocchi (as I would like to remember it; recipe by repeated trial and error over the last several days)


Ingredients

2 pounds Russet baking potatoes
1 slightly beaten egg
1 ½ - 2 cups flour
Salt and Pepper

Method

Score then bake the potatoes in a microwave for ten minutes. (You can also bake them in a conventional oven for approximately 35 minutes at 400 degrees F or until tender.) Remove potatoes from oven and set out to cool, piercing each several times to release steam and moisture. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off skins and put through a ricer into a large bowl. It is very important that there not be any lumps at all. Beat in the egg, then incrementally beat in the flour until the mixture forms a non-sticky ball of dough. The amount of flour you need will vary depending on the moisture content of the potatoes. For excellent tips on making gnocchi, check here and here.

Turn out the ball of dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for approximately 5 minutes to create a very smooth texture. Do not overwork the dough. Cut ball in half.

Gently roll and stretch dough out to form a long rope ¼ - ½ inch thick. Cut the rope at ½ to ¾ inch intervals into small nuggets. Flatten each nugget against the lightly floured tines of a fork while pressing it against your fingers. Turn the fork over and slowly roll the dough off the fork, gently pressing the seam. The more you depress the fork, the deeper the ridges you will leave in the dough. (You can also roll the nuggets against a lightly floured traditional wooden gnocchi board. The ridges will not be as pronounced.)

Before you begin with the second half of the dough, slowly bring a large pot of water to a boil. Immediately after completion of all the gnocchi, gently slide them into the boiling water. Work in batches to prevent overcrowding of the pot. The gnocchi will drop down to the bottom of the pot. The gnocchi are cooked when they pop up to the surface, in a matter of minutes. If you continue to let them stay in water, they will double in size and be twice as light. The choice of texture is yours; neither are leaden nor sticky. Scoop the dumplings out of the water with a slotted spoon, either plating them to serve immediately with your favorite sauce or transferring them to an ovenproof dish for further finishing as described below.

Serves 4. --

Simple Butter and White Truffle Oil Sauce (very loosely adapted from the Epicurious recipe)

Ingredients

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt to taste
White pepper to taste

1 teaspoon white truffle oil
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated nutmeg
Additional grated Parmesan cheese

Method

In a large skillet over low heat, melt the butter with the olive oil, removing from heat when the butter fully melts. Add garlic and allow it to flavor without additional heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add white truffle oil and stir to mix. Gently add gnocchi to the skillet, turning to well coat with the sauce. Transfer gnocchi to a large ovenproof dish (or 4 individual dishes). Pour the heavy cream over and around the gnocchi. Scatter with the grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for 8 minutes in a pre-heated 400 degree F oven or until cheese is melted and inner edges of the baking dish is brown and crispy.

Remove from oven and freshly grate nutmeg over top of gnocchi. Adjust salt if necessary. Serve immediately with additional grated Parmesan cheese on the side.



This post is being submitted to
Jeni of The Passionate Palate and Inge of Vanielje Kitchen, co-hosts of Apples and Thyme, an event that celebrates and pays tribute to the women in our families and our lives who have left sweet memories of time spent in their kitchens.

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Been There, Done That ~

Grandmothers
Maple Walnut Cake

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Easing into Indian - Adrak Ka Shorba


This is not a restaurant review post, although you wouldn’t know it for the number of eating establishments I will be referencing. No, this is a chronicle of culinary expeditions that ultimately lands me into my own kitchen, far from gleaming stainless workstations and soup cauldrons deep enough to swim in.

The journey started innocently enough around ten years ago, while I was living in the vast suburban sprawl known as Pharmaceutical Alley in Central New Jersey. Though heavily populated with bedroom communities that hugged the perimeters of corporate parks and tangled with ribbons of highway that could take you from Point A to Point B with relative ease, the area was pretty much as bleak as those highways for anyone who wanted a night out at more than a diner but less than a cavernous catering hall. Yes, there were a handful of fine, old eateries with elegant dining rooms and revered chefs, and the occasional micro-brewery with excellent local suds and progressive menus. But for the most part, getting a decent meal wasn’t as much a difficult decision based on too many options, but an act of desperation and resignation.

After spending most of one Friday afternoon dickering with colleagues over where we would land that evening, sharing massive platters of greasy chicken fingers with mustard sauce or facing yet another round of pretty country club plates fussily arranged by the kitchen staff’s fussy fingers, someone piped up with the suggestion of Indian. My glazed eyes lit up like a Christmas tree out from under eleven months of mothballs. I didn’t even know there was an Indian restaurant in the area.

“Indian? Isn’t that spicy?” replied one of us, echoing the sentiments of many in our group.

“Yes, it’s spicy, but that’s the point…” said the woman who made the suggestion.

“But it’s not all spicy, not if you define spicy as hot," I weighed in. Back then, my knowledge of Indian cuisine was based on my ravenous appetite for reading cooking magazines and articles from the Wednesday food sections of the newspapers. I certainly knew that the curry powder the average American cook flavored their Country Captain Chicken with was certainly not the sort of curries commonly used by the average Indian cook.

“Some of it can be quite mild, yet complex,” I added. “ You can handle it. And the spicy’ isn’t like dousing a Buffalo wing in Tabasco Sauce, but much more nuanced and interesting. Again, spicy doesn’t have to mean ‘hot,’ although it could.” I hadn’t even eaten it, yet already I was campaigning for it.

It wound up that only two of us, Jennifer, the woman who suggested it, and I, went out for Indian that night to Neelam, a small brick storefront in a tiny strip mall in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.

And there began the start of a standing Friday night “date” with Jennifer, where we would commiserate about the men in our lives, as we feasted on simple yet elegant oval dishes of vegetable jalfrezi and chicken vindaloo; plates of crusty samosas; stacks of pappadum and kulchas; and piles of green, tomato and coconut chutneys, all countered by soothing, creamy bowls of raita.

Alas, it would only be a matter of time before I began cheating on Jennifer, seeking out new frontiers of Indian dining, my dear and culinary-daring mother, Carol, in tow. Jennifer and I didn’t stop dining at Neelam, but given the packet of cash left behind from dining à la carte, my mother and I scoured many neighborhoods for the “cheap” thrill of lavish, insatiable buffet spreads at all-inclusive prices. Here is where I got to sample and savor a far wider range of Indian dishes from many regions, both swooning and sometimes sweating over the spice quotient. There was Pooja, Baadshah, Moghul, Udupi Village, and Chand Palace, an exquisitely inspired vegetarian array, where, to this day, we have lunch every month.

I was hooked; it was a habit I knew I would never break. Even when I was working all over Manhattan, the first spots I plotted on the neighborhood maps were the Indian restaurants. I don’t mean the places of silk and grandeur, but wonderful nook-and-cranny curry shops generous with their fragrant basmati and eager to splash an extra spoonful of dal on those long fingers of well-defined grains. So well drilled I was in restaurant locations, that when a dear blogger friend visited me in New York a few weeks ago, I marched her and her husband (and my husband, for that matter) forty blocks to Maharaja from The Metropolitan Museum of Art, to where the vegetarian fare, even though it had changed hands, was as I remembered. Thick, cumin-cuddled chick pea stew and dense, paneer-studded spinach paste cluttered our happy plates. The naan was steamy and blistered. There was no better place on Earth to eat.



When I became a food blogger eight months ago, bliss took an ever higher road. It has been many years since my first eye-opening encounters with Indian eats, and though I pride myself on my kitchen confidence, I still felt a certain intimidation, not based on an inability to execute a meal, but one of lack of actual, tactical experience; a difficult time finding elusive, albeit enchanting ingredients; and the head-banging sorting out of dialectic, glossary terms that may be altogether different, depending on where an Indian cook hails from in the home country.

So I am starting easy and easing into it, knowing full well that what is offered in restaurants is not necessarily the best that any cuisine from any culture can offer. Home cooking is where it's at. First there was rasam from an Indian grocery guidebook; then paneer mahkmali; now adrak ka shorba, a beautifully creamy and warming ginger-charged soup. (I won't even count the no-brainer minute-microwaving of pappadum.) These are admittedly baby steps, but I believe confidence is born of the small successes interspersed with the resounding failures that slap you to the floor and challenge you further.

Is adrak ka shorba rocket science? I think not. But I have my eye set on a far away destination, and the only way for me to get there is to get those boosters blasting. To the moon, that’s where I want to go. To the moon.



Adrak Ka Shorba – (Tangy Ginger Soup) From The Everything Indian Cookbook by Monica Bhide


Ingredients

2-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds (I like to toast seeds and spices in a dry cast iron skillet)
½ teaspoon powdered turmeric
1 small chopped tomato or ½ cup chopped canned peeled tomato
2 dried red chili peppers, crushed but not finely broken
1 minced serrano chili, seeds and membranes removed
2 cups milk
1 cup plain whipped yoghurt (I used strained Greek yoghurt)
Salt to taste (optional)
Dried mint for garnish

Method

In a large sauce pan, brown the gingerroot in the butter and oil over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and turmeric, cooking another 20 seconds. Add chopped tomato. If using fresh, cook them until soft; if using canned, crush them with a potato masher and heat through. Add the red and serrano chilies, then add the milk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Add yoghurt and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, adding optional salt. Soup can be served strained or as is. Since the yoghurt separated while heating, I whipped the unstrained soup briefly in a blender to bring it back together. Garnish with dried mint. Serves 2 generously. [I served this with naan (store bought). Someday I will make my own.]


This post is being submitted to Sunita of Sunita's World, creator of the lovely monthly event "Think Spice." This month's featured spice is ginger.

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Been There, Done That ~

Ginger
Extreme Gingerbread Muffin Makeover


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Peaches and Dream - Peach Rum Savarin



What a quandary. The peach and its smooth-skinned stone-fruit sister, the nectarine, are my all-time favorite fruits. There is nothing so bucolic as plucking their fresh, glowing globes, hanging heavy from rows of trees at roadside orchards, filling a basket with the fragrant and flushed promise of ambrosial juices dripping from that first out-of-hand bite or culinary cut in the kitchen. And there is nothing quite so dismal and disappointing as when the local season shuts down and leaves you with the prospect of picking through bins of watery, mealy, bland, commercial-grade produce trucked in from who knows where, if you can find any at all.

My last excursion to the supermarket bore no fresh peaches of any kind, good, bad or ugly. Apples are king now, as they should be. But the tease of golden-pink cleaved orbs or saucers still played on my desire for the delirious delicacy of one last peach, before that first apple pie gets pushed into the oven.

Times like these call for desperate measures, which, for me, mean meticulously researching recipes for hours and hours, analyzing their ingredients and methods, keen to predict a winner and avoid a dud of a dish that I can neither serve to my guests nor recommend to my readership. These tasks aside, it is still easier than picking the trifecta at the local racetrack.

Patience and perseverance do pay off, though, in a recipe for one the most seminal classic French cakes ever created, Le Gâteau Savarin, named for the virtually undisputed granddaddy of gourmands, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin. The greater payoff still was not having to resort to canned peaches, the flavor and texture of which is too metallic and leaden for my personal taste. Instead, I was able to utilize fine French and Italian jarred peach products, where flavor and fragrance are not compromised, products that are not impossible to find in well-stocked markets.

For those who are unused to baking with live yeast culture, please be assured that this is among the easiest, fastest and most foolproof cakes you can conjure up during a quiet kitchen interlude of no more than a few hours, from the rising of the dough to the finishing touch of folding preserves into the softest of whipped creams.

For those who are already missing the sublime sweetness and savor of peaches at their prime, follow me back to old France, where the flavor and fragrance are still fresh, and an exalted fruit rises from the ashes of the orchard.


Peach Rum Savarin - From the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science recipe [The cake recipe itself (the savarin) was followed almost to the letter. A savarin is a less complicated, less rich, version of a brioche.]

2 cups all purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast (use the traditional yeast, NOT the quick rise)
2/3 cup milk
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
3 eggs

Method

In a large mixing bowl combine 1 1/2 cups of the flour and yeast. In a saucepan heat milk, butter and sugar just till mixture is warm (115 to 120 F) and butter is almost melted; stir constantly. Add to flour mixture, add eggs. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 1/2 minute, scraping bowl. Beat for 3 minutes on high speed. Using a spoon, stir in remaining flour. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Spoon batter into a well- greased six-to-nine cup savarin mold or ring. (A bundt or tube pan work well, too.) Cover, let rise in a warm place till nearly double (about 40 minutes). Bake in a 350F oven for 25 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan 5 minutes; transfer, inverted to a wire rack over waxed paper.

Savarin Syrup – Adapted from the Carnegie Mellon recipe [Since you must soak the savarin in the syrup while the savarin is still warm, please prepare the syrup before the savarin is removed from the oven.]

Ingredients

½ cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup golden rum
2 cups high-quality peach nectar (I used Rienzi, an Italian import)

Method

In a medium saucepan, combine water and sugar, cooking over medium heat until the sugar melts and the mixture thickens into a syrup. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes before adding the rum and nectar. [If you prefer, you can completely cook off the alcohol by returning the entire mixture over a low flame and let it simmer for approximately 10 minutes. The rum flavor will not be diminished.]

Peach Chantilly Cream – Adapted from the Wilton Stabilized Whipped Cream recipe [Chantilly cream is whipped cream that is beaten until soft peaks form rather than very stiff peaks.]

Ingredients


2 cups whipping (or heavy) cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 tablespoons stabilizing gel (I used Wilton Piping Gel which contains agar, a non-meat gelling agent; other non-gelatin (non-meat) products are available, but very hard to find)
1 cup high-quality peach preserves (I used Bonne Maman, a French import)

Method

In a small sauce pan over very low heat, gently melt preserves until barely simmering. Transfer warmed preserves to a large tea strainer positioned over a large bowl. With a spoon or spatula, rub and press the preserves through the strainer, saving any solids for use as a spread. Set aside the bowl of strained preserves to cool.

In a large chilled bowl, beat the cream until it just starts to thicken. Add powdered sugar and beat just until sugar is well distributed, then beat in stabilizing gel, until cream reaches the soft peak stage. Do not over beat to stiff peaks.

When the preserves are fully cooled, gently fold them into the soft whipped cream. Refrigerate the cream (covered) until you are ready to assemble/serve. The cream is very delicate.

Assembly

With the warm cake still inverted on the rack so that the bottom is upright, poke frequent deep holes in it with a fine skewer. Pour 1/2 the syrup slowly over the bottom of the cake, taking care to fill the holes you have made. Allow cake to sit for half an hour. Turn cake upright. Repeat piercing of cake and pouring of remaining syrup. Let sit again for half an hour.

Carefully position cake on a serving or cake plate. It should be very sodden with syrup yet maintain its shape. If not, return it to the rack and pour the runoff syrup collected from under the rack into the cake.

For the prettiest presentation, pipe the peach chantilly cream into the center of the savarin as well as along the circumference of the cake. Decorate the center cream with a few blanched almonds and some orange-colored sugar (I used India Tree which does not use artificial color in some of its products), or a glacè cherry. Dusting the cake with powdered sugar (as shown) is optional.

[On a practical note, the cutting and individual plating of this gorgeous creation is difficult to do successfully. It does present beautifully as a whole, but it can be less than attractive given it's heavily syruped and very voluptuously creamed decor. When I make it again, I will cut individual servings from the syruped cake and then decorate with the peach cream.]


This post is being submitted to Mansi of Fun and Food who is hosting AFAM - Peach - for Maheswari of Beyond the Usual, the founder of this lovely event.


Been There, Done That ~

White Peaches
Crumb-Top Peach Pie

Nectarines
Stuffed, Baked Nectarines