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Friday, January 29, 2016

A New Cookbook Means I'm Cooking Persian

This past weekend, I returned home from England with some new cookbooks in hand and some new toys in the kitchen. Lots of new experimenting to be done over the next few weeks.

I started with something from my latest cookbook purchase. Last year, while we were in San Francisco, we are lunch at the most wonderful Persian restaurant. So when I spotted Persiana by Sabrina Ghayour on the shelves of Tesco, I knew I had to have it, and I couldn't wait to try some of the recipes.

For my first attempt at Persian food, I made the following Joojeh Kebab (Saffron and Lemon Chicken). Delicately flavored with lemon, saffron, and turmeric,the vibrant yellow color of the dish paired nicely with the bright green of the freshly sauteed spinach. The next day, I served the leftovers with bulgur wheat.

Saffron and Lemon Chicken (adapted from Persiana) (Serves 4) 

I cut the original recipe in the book but still had enough for 4 servings.

2 onions, cut in half and sliced thinly
juice of 2 lemons
2 tbs olive oil
1 tsp ground turmeric
8 oz plain Greek yogurt
1 tbs sea salt
good sized pinch of saffron
3 tbs boiling water
4 chicken thighs, skinned*

* The original recipe called for chicken breasts but I find thighs so much more flavorful. Not wanting to waste the chicken skin, I sliced the skins and placed them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper in the oven at about 350F. Leave them to crisp up and you have very tasty snack.

Put the onions, lemon juice, olive oil, turmeric, yogurt, and salt into a large bowl and mix well.

Using a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron into a powder. Add the boiling water and leave for 5-10 minutes.

Such vibrant colors!
Put the chicken into the bowl with the yogurt and onion mixture. Pour the saffron water over and stir everything so the chicken is nicely covered in the mixture. Leave it to marinate for at least an hour in the fridge.

When ready to cook, preheat your grill. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and place on it the chicken breasts with some of the onion mixture. Grill for about 20 minutes until the meat is cooked through.

While the chicken was cooking, I too the rest of the marinade and cooked it up on the stove top with some fresh spinach. Serve it with basmati rice, if you have it. I only had brown, which was good, but not as fluffy as basmati.

I foresee much more saffron and pomegranate-roasted lamb in my future, not to mention Hungarian dishes and things cooked on a salt block!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Quiche and the Importance of Fact-Checking Recipes

For the last month, I have been visiting family back in Kent. This means I've been enjoying lots of foods I can't easily get in Kentucky - pork pies, good English bangers, minted lamb chops, smoked haddock, and so on. And this past weekend, I made a quiche.

For the uninitiated, quiche is a traditional French savory tart, made with a pastry base and an eggy custard, often with cheese, ham, or vegetables. It's wonderful hot or cold. It's also easy to make, but I never get to make it back in the US because my husband does not like eggs, and I can't eat an entire quiche by myself.

Now although quiche is easy to make, since I hadn't made it for many years, it seemed a good idea to check a recipe for cooking time. Many of you know that I adore The Hairy Bikers and have made some of their recipes before for this blog, including: salmon curry, their fabulous turkey and ham pie, ginger spice cake, and a sausage casserole. So of course, I popped online to the BBC and checked their recipe. And this is where a good editor is so crucial when publishing recipes online. The recipe said to place it in the oven and bake for 15 minutes until set.

Fifteen minutes? For an entire tart of egg custard to set?

Needless to say, after 15 minutes, it was still liquid.

And after 20 minutes.

It was only set after 40 minutes!

So Si and Dave, if by some chance you happen to read this, the recipe on the BBC website lists the wrong cooking time.

But cooking time aside, they have a pretty good recipe. I used store-bought pastry and added mushrooms to mine.

Bacon and Mushroom Quiche

1 pastry crust
5-6 oz bacon, chopped and cooked until crisp
5-6 oz button mushrooms, chopped and sauteed
5 oz mature Cheddar, grated
3-4 eggs (I'd say 3 large but I only had medium at hand and so used 4 of them)
250 ml creme fraiche (or double cream, if that's all you can get)
black pepper

Line a tin with the pastry crust. Bake blind at 350F or Gas 4 for 15 minutes. If using baking beans, remove them after the first ten minutes.

Mix together the cooked bacon, mushrooms, eggs, creme fraiche, and most of the cheese. Leave some grated cheese for sprinkling on top. Give a generous grinding of black pepper. Don't mix the custard ingredients too much - you don't want a lot of air in the mix.

Pour the mix into the pastry shell and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Bake at 350F or Gas 4 for 30-40 minutes (until the custard is set).

You can serve quiche hot, but I personally prefer it either just a little warmed or cold. Great with salad and potatoes. It's also absolutely fab to take to a summer picnic.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Yule Log

There is something so wonderfully festive about a Yule Log - chocolatey, sprinkled with powdered sugar to resemble snow, perhaps a few holly berries.

I always grew up with fruit cake for Christmas, a deliciously rich concoction that my mother baked in September and would carefully drop with brandy to keep moist until December. It was then covered in a layer of marzipan, followed by thick white icing, in peaks to look like snow. I still love it. But there's two of us in our household, and one doesn't like marzipan or fruit cake. And ideally I need something I can also serve on Boxing Day when the in-laws come over.

The yule log is the ideal choice. Still special enough for Christmas but something that everyone likes.

My first attempt at making my own yule log was our first Christmas as a married couple. I made one filled with a delicious raspberry Chambord cream. Sadly I've never been able to find the recipe since then.

The second year, unable to find that recipe but determined to repeat my log success, I attempted a gingerbread one. It was a dismal failure, falling apart. Finally, in a panicked huff (my mixer also decided to die that Christmas Eve), I ran to the store, bought a Swiss Roll and covered it with chocolate.

I never attempted to make one again.

Until the Christmas of 2014 (yes, I've been waiting to share this with you since last Christmas!)

 Proper credit should go to Jane Hornby, author of What to Bake and How to Bake It. While she didn't come to my kitchen and bake it herself, she did provide simple to follow instructions to make the perfect Yule Log. Thank you Jane, wherever you are!

Chocolate Yule Log with Nutella

To make the cake:

one butter wrapper (I always keep there as they are fab for greasing baking tins without getting your fingers greasy)
6 eggs
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tbs flour
pinch salt
1/2 cup quality cocoa powder (but the good stuff - you'll notice the difference)

Grease a 10x15 inch baking tray and line with some greaseproof paper. You can use a jelly roll pan if you have one, but as long as the tray has a rimmed edge, you'll be fine.
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Bring the eggs to room temperature before using.

I admit I was nervous about this recipe as a cake base. With so many eggs and so little flour, surely it would be too eggy, not cakey enough. Don't worry. Trust the recipe and it will turn out better than you could imagine.

You can either use a hand mixer or a stand mixer to make the base. Back in February, I had received a KitchenAid stand mixer, which I had wanted for ages. The fact that I'd wanted it for ages makes me all the more ashamed to admit that this was my first time using it. I'm in love!

Regardless of which mixer you use, whisk the eggs and sugar together for about 5 minutes. The two will combine to an almost mousse-like texture.

Sift the flour, salt, and cocoa powder over the egg mix. This is where you need to be careful. It will be so tempting to switch that mixer back on and beat it for a few seconds.


The last thing you want to do is spoil that wonderful air-filled mousse mix.

Instead take a spatula. Don't mix. Use the spatula in a lifting motion to slowly combine the ingredients. Remember the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady will win this race. Lift and combine. Life and combine. Repeat until eventually you have a smooth, brown mixture.

Pour into the prepared baking pan and tilt the pan to fill all the corners. It helps if you pour from a height, to get rid of air bubbles. Lightly tap the pan on a kitchen surface to remove any remaining air, and pop in the oven for 15 minutes.

Once you take it out of the oven, carefully work a knife along the edges to help loosen the cake from the pan. Spread a piece of parchment paper covered with a few tablespoons of cocoa powder on a clean, flat surface. Flip the pan over onto the cocoa powder, carefully lift the pan, leaving behind the cake and the greaseproof paper. Cover the cake with a clean dishtowel and leave to cool.

This worked so much better than the recipes that suggest you roll it up with the dish towel and leave it cool. That is always a recipe for disaster where I am concerned as the cake falls apart when you have to unroll, fill, and reroll. So leave flat, but covered with a towel to keep it moist.

Now it's time to make the filling:

7oz bittersweet chocolate, at least 60% cacao
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup Nutella
1 tsp vanilla extract

These yummy, decadent goodies will make both the filling and the ganache for our log.

Break the chocolate into small pieces, and, if the bar you bought, happens to be 8oz, reward yourself for your labors with a piece of chocolate!

Heat 1 1/4 cups of the cream over a gentle heat until bubbles start to form at the edge of the pan. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate, the Nutella, and the vanilla extract. Stir it all together until the ingredients have melted together, then allow the mixture to cool, but not to set. Now you have your ganache.

Pour the remaining cream into a separate bowl and add 1/2 cup of the ganache. Whisk together until thick. This is your filling.

So let's go back to our now cooled cake base. Remove the towel and the greaseproof paper.

Cut the edges so that they are nice and straight. (And feel free to reward yourself again with the little bits you've chopped off).

Spread with the cream filling and carefully roll up, using the paper as a helpful guide. Don't worry if your roll is not perfectly round. You'll be covering it with chocolate so if it is a little squished, as mine was, don't fret.

Roll up nice and tight, and cut a piece off one end, cutting at the diagonal, about 4-6 inches along. This will be the second branch of your log. Alternatively, you can keep it as one long piece.

If you cut one piece off, angle it against the other piece, like a couple of logs. Now cover with the ganache. You can leave it smooth if you like, or use a fork to make some bark patterns in it.

Chill for at least one hour, preferably longer.

When you are ready to serve, you can add a sprinkling of powdered sugar for snow. I also added some small edible holly leaf and berry decorations for a dash of color.

So there's your Yule Log, all nice and seasonal, and very impressive-looking.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Spicy Fun and Failures in the Kitchen

Despite it being a very busy time of the year, with several major writing deadlines approaching as quickly as the holidays, I have still found some (albeit less than usual) time to play in the kitchen. First I had to recover from a rather nasty gastric big that hung around for well over a week. But even when I was sick, I never really lost my appetite and so couldn't wait to get back to some culinary exploration.

Some of you may recall that I picked up some alpaca chorizo at the recent Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show. That chorizo made one very fine jambalaya. Expect to see more alpaca in 2016.

I have also been rather preoccupied with apples since a local orchard posted that they needed help getting in the rest of the crop before frost. At $1 per lb, who could resist! I've dried some, made apple sauce, canned some as pie filling, and still have more to dry.

But this being Kentucky, I also decided to use a few in some apple cinnamon infused bourbon. Simply quarter some apples and throw them in a jar along with a few cinnamon sticks. Top with bourbon and leave to soak for a couple of weeks. Afterwards, strain the liquid and discard the fruit.

I'm thinking this might make a nice hot toddy this winter.

Another recent project was Ethiopian food.

Recently the folks at Raw Spice Bar reached out to me, asking if I would be interested in trying one of their spice boxes for my blog. For a subscription of $6 per month, you receive a package with three spice samples and some suggested recipes. More recipes and tips are available on the site's blog. Glancing at the previous month's samples, I was a little uncertain what to expect; themes had ranged from Punjabi to Navajo to Baltimore.

As it happened, November's theme was Ethiopian spice. I received three sample bags (not resealable, unfortunately) of Berbere, Mitmita, and Pumpkin Pie Spice. I haven't used the latter yet but am planning to use it in a spiced squash soup later this week, perhaps topped with a bit of Berbere for an additional kick.

It seemed only right to sample my spices using some of the recipes provided in the mailing. And given my love of Ethiopian food and desire for something approaching authenticity, I decided to have a go at making my own injera as an accompaniment. (Here's a hint: if you're wondering what the failure refers to in the title, it's my ineptness with teff!)

One of the provided recipes was for Key Wat, a spicy beef cooked in tomatoes and beef broth, and featuring both the Berbere and the Mitmita. Another recipe was spiced carrots and fennel. Since I love carrots but count fennel and anise among the few flavors I dislike, I decided to do a simple side of roasted carrots. Drizzle the carrots with a little olive oil, sprinkle with some Berbere and pop in the oven for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they're nicely coated with the spice.

So the beef was simmering away, the carrots were roasting, and I failed miserably at my first attempt in making injera. I had left the teff to ferment but now I wonder if I had not left it for long enough, or if the temperatures just never reached the right level. Either way, when I poured the batter into the skillet, it stuck and did not resemble anything close to the light bread I have enjoyed at restaurants. Needless to say, I was not in a good mood about this, but since the other dishes were ready and there was no time to prepare any rice, we enjoyed a simple but wonderfully spiced dish of key wat and roasted carrots. What I particularly liked about the two spices was the way the heat built over the course of eating, not in an unpleasant burning sensation, but in a nice constant reminder of flavor.

I won't claim to have made anything authentically Ethiopian, rather Ethiopian-inspired, but I do now want to try my hand at more dishes. And I refuse to let injera defeat me!

I have to say I really like the concept of Raw Spice Bar. The spices are excellent quality and the recipes are a nice way to get started. I considered myself pretty knowledgeable about spices and international cooking, but looking through past selections it is clear that there is something for everyone in terms of exploring new flavors. I will definitely be going back in their archives to explore the Navajo and Peruvian dishes. Kudos to Raw Spice Bar for making what might seem intimidating much less so. For $6 a month, I'd suggest it's a great way to try new spices without spending a small fortune on something you may not like. So give it a try and see where your tastebuds take you.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Eating Our Way Around Indy

I've been to Indianapolis a few times, but usually just as a stopover on my way to Chicago. While I've raced around the Indy Speedway, enjoyed the works of Georgia O'Keeffe at the Museum of Art, and toured the Medical History Museum (highly underrated and well worth a visit), I've not spent much time exploring the local restaurants. So I was pleased to head up there this past weekend for a food and walking tour. We ate and ate, and then ate some more. It turns out that Indianapolis has some great food!

The Rathskeller

Our tour started at 3pm at The Rathskeller, where we were greeted by our guide Dani.

The German House was built by the city's German community in the 19th century. Its goal was to provide one location for their many social, political, and sporting clubs. Renamed the Athenaeum during World War I, the building now houses a YMCA, several theatre companies, and many other organizations. It is still home to the Rathskeller restaurant and beer garden.

Heading inside, we took our seats in the large event hall, ready for the first portion of our feast. I have never had a light German meal, and this was no exception. In addition to the beer of our choice, we were treated to plates of fresh pretzels, complete with two types of mustard, one of which gave the sinuses a good cleaning!

Then came the serious food - a plate featuring our types of sausage, sauerkraut, rotkraut, and spaetzle.

It was all delicious. I had fully intended to pace myself, having read the reviews of the tour and knowing that we had more food stops ahead of us. Let's just say once I tried the food, all hopes of pacing vanished.

The Rathskeller Sample Plate

One of the beautiful historic properties of Lockerbie Square.
Following our hearty German sampler was an opportunity to walk off some of our recently ingested calories with a stroll through the historic Lockerbie Square. Here Dani shared the history of the many charming houses in the neighborhood.

One stop along our route was the James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home. Famous poet James Whitcomb Riley, creator of Little Orphan Annie, lived in the home as a lodger for several decades. We were shown around the first floor, and I fell in love with the highly polished and very impressive stove. I believe if I were to rip out all of the appliances in my tiny kitchen, I may just have room for such a beast.

The Peachy Pig and Sweet Potato Fries at Ralston's
The tour's second food stop was Ralston's DraftHouse on Massachusetts Avenue. At 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, the place was a-hopping.

In an effort to pace myself, I decided to skip the beer. (I had heard that the margaritas at our next stop were not to be missed). However, Nic ordered a cherry mead ale that was as full of flavor as it was color.

The dishes provided for us on this stop consisted of two types of flatbread and sweet potato fries.

No soggy tomatoes in this ratatouille!
The Peachy Pig was topped with pulled pork, cheddar, ginger, cilantro, and a peach-chipotle reduction. The combination of pork and peach is one that I plan to do myself on a homemade pizza.

I was a little more reserved about the Ratatouille Flatbread... until I tried it. Usually ratatouille is one of those-take-it-or-leave-it dishes for me, overly swimming in stewed tomatoes. This was far beyond my expectations, with the perfect blend of eggplant, peppers, onions, squash, and tomatoes, topped with cheese.

The sweet potato fries were a tasty side, and came with ketchup and cinnamon cream cheese.

I could have happily spent more time at Ralston's soaking up the atmosphere, but we had more exploring to do, and so on to the next.

After admiring the architecture of the Murat Centre and stopping to say hi to Kurt Vonnegut, we continued our way along Massachusetts Avenue to Bakersfield.

Indianapolis' most famous son.
Before I mention Bakersfield, I should note some of the benefits of doing a tour like this. Obviously, the food is a highlight; you get to try samplers at places you may not have tried before. You also meet a fascinating variety of people, and have the added bonus of a knowledgeable guide to tell you the history of the area. But another benefit is that you have a table waiting for you. Take for example Bakersfield. They do not take reservations and on a Saturday evening, they are filled to the gills. They do keep a space for a tour though, meaning that we were able to walk right in and find the food ready and waiting.

Chicken tacos
 Aiming for a vibe similar to its namesake city in California, Bakersfield prides itself on three things: tacos, tequila, and whiskey. Dani had told us about the excellent margaritas and she was not wrong. It may well be the best margarita I have ever tasted, surpassing the ones I had in Mexico and even the ones at my favorite local Mexican restaurant. If you find yourself in Indy, go and order a margarita at Bakersfield, stat!

To accompany our drinks, we were presented with platters of chicken and fish tacos, both delicious.
Fish tacos at Bakersfield
 The fish was particularly surprising. All too often, I come across fried fish that has gone soggy. These pieces of fish were firm with a crisp batter. Very nice indeed.

And finally, we reached our last stop: The Flying Cupcake bakery. Given my choice of cupcakes, I picked out a bananas foster but took it with me for later enjoyment. For now, I was stuffed.

So how would I rate the tour? Excellent. Dani was a wonderful guide. Each of the food stops was a delight. If I had to pick a favorite dish, I would probably say it was the Peachy Pig, but that is a tough call, because I did enjoy everything. I actually can't wait to go back to Indianapolis to revisit some of my new food discoveries.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Easy Caramelized Onions

A few years ago, I came across an article online mocking the idea that caramelized onions could be made within a few minutes.

I see plenty of recipes claiming that you should put onions in a skillet and leave them to caramelize within 3-5 minutes. I have no idea how they're doing that; I've yet to see that happen. But this method, from Bon Appetit, did give me nicely caramelized onions in about half an hour. Just remember to slice your onions nice and thinly. I used balsamic vinegar instead of white wine (going with what I had on hand in the kitchen).

The result was a nice batch of caramelized onions, some to go on my sausage and lentil dinner, with plenty more for the next few days.

Apologies for the blurry pic but here they are on a bed of lentils, spinach, and Italian sausage.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Food Shows and BAT Burgers

It's been an interesting few days of food, with two shows, a meaty discovery, and a new twist on the BLT.

First the food shows.

Despite having lived in Lexington for some 14 years, I had no idea that we had an agricultural school until last week, although in all fairness I don't think it's been in existence that long. Locust Trace AgriScience Center, on Leestown Road, is a wonderful facility where high-school students can pursue programs in Equine Studies, Plant Science, Agricultural Mechanics, and other related subject areas. The school held a food show last week with a local farmer's market, restaurants, and more. If they hold another, be sure to go along and meet our future generation of farmers.

Then on Saturday, I headed over to the Lexington Convention Center and Heritage Hall for the Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show. Last year, I was signing books and giving a seminar, so this year I enjoyed the chance to just wander and sample.

A few disappointments:

  • A show highlighting the best in local produce and food has a booth for McDonalds with nutritionists highlighting the value of their meals and giving away sugar-filled yogurts. 
  • A book section that seems to shrink each year.
  • A craft beer section that, upon inspection, seemed to have only one craft brewer present. Kudos to West Sixth for their continuing support of community events (and their wonderful beer). But we have a number of local craft brewers here in town, in nearby Danville and Louisville. Come on guys!
  • This year was the first year for Biscuit Alley, a competitive area with five local restaurants and catering companies presenting their take on the traditional biscuit. Try all of them and vote for your favorite. A great idea. However because of its location, a great many people attended the show and never knew it was there.

But the positives, and these truly shone.

  • Every year, I enjoy seeing the huge variety that is Kentucky Proud. This year, I saw fewer candies and beer cheese than in previous years, but more meats, especially the more "exotic" meats. I love goat and lamb and am always pleased to see them get some attention. But this year's key discovery for our household was alpaca. I stopped by the River Hill Ranch booth for a lengthy chat about their alpaca herd, and then tried a sample. The meat had the cleanest flavor of anything I have ever tried. It was slightly sweet, very tender, and absolutely delicious. I came home with some of their alpaca chorizo to try and I see a visit to their farm in my future.
  • Lots of ice-cream at this year's show - Brusters, Crank & Boom, The Comfy Cow, and others I'm sure I've forgotten. 
  • Perennial favorite Glier's Goetta. I hunt them out every year for my goetta sandwich. 
  • I spent some time chatting with Nick Semertzides of Cincinnati-based Mt. Kofinas. Their olive oils and honey all come from a specific part of Crete and are worth a taste or two or three. Among our topics of conversation: the lack of allergies in Crete, the purity of the honey and oils, and yes, why every other Greek man is called Nick (a fact which pleased my hubby, Nic, immensely).
And so we get to the food. Regardless of how many people love them, the BLT has just never grabbed me as a sandwich. Lettuce is one of the most pointless greens around (lacking in flavor and nutritional value); tomatoes are all well and good, and bacon - who doesn't love bacon. But put them all together and you have a rather lackluster combination.

So instead of BLT, try a BAT. Replace that limp lettuce with some creamy avocado.

But we're not stopping there.

Bacon is great, and I'm not going to get into the latest scaremongering about it. Jalapeno bacon is even better. We love spice in our household; a good dose of chili flakes can lift just about anything. So when I saw that Hormel now have a jalapeno bacon and it was on sale in our local store, there was the next addition.

And finally the tomato. Maple-roasted. Giving you a sassy sweetness to accompany the spicy kick of the bacon, and avocado creaminess to round it all out. No mayo, mustard, or what-have-you needed here.

Bacon-Avocado-Tomato Sandwich
Aunt Millie's Onion Buns (I love these. They are wonderful for use with burgers, or with cheese and pickles. And unlike so many burger buns, they don't fall apart the minute you put something in them.)
Ripe avocado
Bacon (jalapeno is worth a try but whatever bacon you like)
Maple-roasted tomatoes

So you're wondering about the tomatoes? Easy as switching on an oven and leaving a tray of tomatoes in there for a few hours.

Maple-roasted Tomatoes
Tomatoes. Go for smallish ones. You can use grape or cherry if you like. I used Camparis, cut into quarters.
2 tbs maple syrup (I have some that I picked up at White Meadows Farm in Canada last year.)
2 tbs olive oil
salt, pepper, and a good shaking of ground thyme.

Line a baking tray with foil and place the tomatoes on it, skin side down.
Mix together the maple syrup, olive oil, and seasonings.
Drizzle over the tomatoes and place in a 250F oven for 4 or 5 hours.

Use them in your BAT or in salads, in pasta.