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Thursday, September 10, 2015

Oodles of Zoodles

I've been on several food kicks these past few weeks and tonight I combined them all for one fab meal.

Ladies and gents, I give you zucchini noodles, mussels, and cheesy baked onions.

1. The zucchini noodle (aka the zoodle). Why did it take me so long to discover these? I love pasta but have been steering clear of it as I have a tendency to eat too much and it leaves me feeling bloated.

I'd read about zucchini noodles but hubby isn't a huge fan of the courgette... unless it's a noodle, as it happens. You can use a mandolin to shred these. Alternatively, if you are tired of also shredding your fingers or of having a large piece that is unshredable, use one of the handy dandy tools out there. The spiralizer is a popular choice but a cheaper option is the vegetti. I picked one up earlier this week and it is so handy for making noodles without sacrificing my fingers. Just remember that you can end up with VERY (2ft plus) long noodles so cut or pause as you go. Eat the noodles raw or toss them in a skillet for a few minutes.


2. Fish, seafood, etc. I have been on a fishy kick lately. Salmon, shrimp, and now mussels. Cook them for a few minutes with some garlic and chili peppers and serve with noodles for a very healthy meal.

3. A cheesy baked onion. A friend had mentioned these repeatedly on Facebook and I knew I had to make them. Peel your onions and slice top and bottom off. Put them in an oven-safe dish with some olive oil, black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan. Baked at 375F for 25 minutes, then flip over, add some more cheese, and return to the oven for another half hour or so. I sprinkled some extra goat cheese over before serving.

One very good meal.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Kentucky shorts: Salmon and Mama Lou's

A couple of shorts today from over the Labor Day weekend.

First up, some chile-seared salmon. I am very particular about the fish that I buy - where and how it was caught, if it is sustainable, etc. For salmon, I usually buy a large fillet of wild Alaskan and it into smaller pieces before freezing. I adore salmon, and am equally particular about how it is cooked. I've had too many restaurant meals of overcooked, dry fish. I like mine still rare in the middle, (or completely raw if I'm going for sushi).

This chile-seared salmon has a real kick and was perfect with little potatoes and a side salad.

I also made a "relish" of chopped pear, pineapple, dried cranberries and dried chile but, honestly, that was a little disappointing. It didn't add anything to the fish, and a simple dollop of peach chutney was much better.

Mix some dried, crushed chiles with a little salt and half a teaspoon of sugar. Rub into the fish. Heat a skillet and add a little oil. Sear the fish for a few minutes on either side, giving the sugar a chance to caramelize and form a nice spicy crust.


Next up is a dining experience at Mama Lou's Bar-B-Que in Munfordville, KY. Yesterday was Labor Day and so we decided to head to Kentucky Down Under for a dose of antipodean nature. After several hours of petting wallabies, tromping through caves, and making kookaburras laugh, we were hungry and ready to head back to Lexington. There is a cafe on site at Kentucky Down Under, and we had been chatting earlier to the cook who shared her recipe for sloppy joes and gave us a taste (excellent). But I had a hankering for BBQ, probably because I was still disappointed to learn that Bowling Green's Smokey Pig was closed on Mondays. A quick check on the old smartphone led us to Mama Lou's.

It's a little place that looks like it used to be a Pizza Hut. The staff are very friendly.

We shared an order of fried green tomatoes first. They were delicious and perfectly cooked. I always have trouble getting the breading to stick to mine, but these had just the right crunch.

After, we each had the "famous" loaded baked potato. A one-pound potato, topped with butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon, and eight ounces of pulled pork! It's one big potato. Plus a side of baked beans.

I should probably preface this with two things:
1. I've been on a very healthy kick lately: no pasta, hardly any refined carbs. So this was a shock to my stomach.
2. I have a bad habit of eating quickly, which means I don't realise just how full I am until it's too late.

You can see where this is leading. Yes, I ate the whole thing. Yes, it was wonderful. Yes, I spent the remainder of the day and evening in a starchy coma. Today I'm back to zucchini noodles.

But if you're in the neighborhood, stop by Mama Lou's.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Make Your Own Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce.

Darkly hued. Tangy. Frequently mispronounced by non-Brits.

A great addition to soups, stews, scrambled eggs, roast beef... you name it, a dash of the W can add a splash of rich, spicy flavor.

Lea & Perrins ad from c. 1900.
(Image in Public Domain)
Based on an old Greco-Roman fish sauce, the most famous brand of Worcester sauce (either name is ok) is Lea & Perrins. They began making it available commercially in 1837, claiming it was based upon a sauce discovered in India by a British colonel. There is, however, no record of the colonel, or indeed any proven link to Indian cuisine.

More recently, I've been enjoying the locally-produced Bourbon Barrel Worcestershire Sauce. Brewed in Kentucky bourbon barrels, it has a much softer flavor than the Lea & Perrins, but is still a wonderful addition to many dishes. (The Bourbon Barrel version is also suitable for vegetarians since it does not contain anchovies.)

A few years ago, in the back of a Saveur issue, I came across a recipe for making your own Worcester sauce. Needless to say, I saved the clipping and can now say that I have made my very own bottle of the condiment.

Homemade Worcester Sauce (recipe from Saveur)
Makes about 2 cups.

2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup tamarind concentrate
3 tbs yellow mustard seeds
3 tbs salt
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp curry powder
5 cardamom pods, crushed
4 chiles de arbol, chopped. If you can't find these, use the little Thai birdseye peppers or dried Indian Japones.
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1-inch stick of cinnamon
1 anchovy, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup sugar

Despite the large number of ingredients required, the process of making Worcester sauce is actually very easy.

Put all of the ingredients except for the sugar in a large pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Put the sugar in a skillet over a medium-high heat and cook until it forms a dark amber syrup (5-10 minutes). Add to the simmering vinegar mix and cook for another 5 minutes.

Pour into a glass jar, seal, and refrigerate for 3 weeks to give the flavors a time to meld.

Drain off the solids, and bottle.

There you go. I tried a spoonful this morning and it is spicy, tangy, with the perfect kick. I know what I'll be cooking with in the coming weeks!

Friday, June 19, 2015

An Anniversary Cheesecake to Top All Others

Regular readers will know that this past week was our wedding anniversary. Fourteen years since we said "I do" in a tiny English chapel in front of the wonderfully stereotypically English Father Steptoe.

With our anniversary comes the usual "what to make" panic. This year, I settled on the simple for the main course - a caprese salad, followed by scallops and red peppers on a bed of sun-dried tomato quinoa. Simple and light... which is just as well since I made something akin to the world's largest cheesecake for dessert.

Two and a half pounds of cream cheese.
Seven eggs.

A true monster.
It took much of the day to make, and truly I still didn't leave enough time for it to set up properly, which meant it was much better the next day, and the day after.

If you want to recreate this monster, here's all you need:

Raspberry and Chocolate-Topped Monster Cheesecake

2 cups graham cracker crumbs
6 tbs melted butter

5 packages of cream cheese (2 1/2 lbs), room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
5 eggs, room temperature
2 egg yolks, room temperature
1/3 cup sour cream or plain yogurt
3 tbs lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Chocolate topping:
7 oz bittersweet chocolate
3 oz semi-sweet chocolate
3/4 cup whipping cream
2 tbs butter

3 6oz packages fresh raspberries
1 cup raspberry jam
Feel free to use a different fruit or topping to suit your tastes.

Wrap the outside of a 9 inch springform pan in foil so that it doesn't leak water. Spray the inside of the pan with nonstick spray. Place about 1-2 inches of water in a roasting pan. Put the roasting pan in the lower part of your oven and preheat to 350F. Hopefully you have brought your eggs to room temperature. If not, switch off the oven, swear a few times, and read a magazine while the eggs sit on the counter. Come back to kitchen, turn oven back on, and continue.

Mix the graham cracker crumbs and melted butter and press into the base of the springform tin.

Now to make the filling with my fab KitchenAid mixer. Cut the cream cheese into chunks and put in a large bowl with the sugar. Mix on medium-high speed until it is fluffy. Lower the speed a little and add the eggs, one at a time, and then the egg yolks. Once they are all blended, add the sour cream, lemon juice, and vanilla.

Pour over the cheesecake base and put the tin in the water bath (roasting pan) in the oven. Leave to bake for about 90 minutes. My oven runs a little hot so it only needed the 90 but you may need up to half an hour more. It should be firm but still a little loose in the center.

Turn off the oven and leave the door open for about an hour with the cheesecake still in the water bath. This lets the cheesecake set up without cracking.

After an hour, remove from the oven to a wire rack where it can cool for another couple of hours before you put it in the fridge.

Leave the cheesecake in the fridge for an hour and then it is time to add the topping. Pulse the chocolate in a blender until it resembles crumbs. You don't have to do this but it makes the mixing quicker. Heat the cream and butter for a few minutes until the butter has melted. Remove from the stove and add the chocolate, stirring until it has melted to form a nice thick sauce. Cool for about 15 minutes before pouring on the cheesecake.

While that is cooling, remove the cheesecake from the fridge. At this point, I removed it from the springform pan, because there was no more space in the tin! Pour the cooled chocolate topping over the cheesecake, allowing it to run down the sides.

Back to the fridge for at least four more hours. I would say longer is better.

When you are ready to serve the cheesecake, mix the berries and jam and spread over the set chocolate. Remind yourself that there is time to diet next week (because let's face it, you'll be eating leftovers for a while).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Moroccan-inspired Scallops on Lemongrass and Chive Risotto

I love scallops. I love seafood, but scallops in particular, with their subtle taste that lends them to an endless variety of flavor additions, and their soft but oh-so-slightly meaty texture.

I'm also very wary of buying fish or seafood because of overfishing, mercury contamination, and so on, which is why I absolutely adore the Seafood Watch app on my phone. Created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the app is my best friend when I am seafood shopping or dining out. Simply plug in the type of fish you are considering, whether it is wild-caught or farm-raised, and the app will tell you whether it is safe to eat, or whether you might want to avoid it. It will also suggest good alternatives. The app is free and I cannot recommend it highly enough. If you enjoy seafood or sushi, download it today. Stay informed and save the oceans!

Recently I saw nice big sea scallops in the local store. Pulling out my trusty app, I soon learned that sea scallops are generally ok to eat, so off to the checkout I went, feeling happy as a ... clam disguised as a scallop!

With a quite a collection of scallop recipes all waiting to be tried, I settled on this one to go first. It is from the book Moroccan Modern by Hassan M'Souli.

Grilled Scallops on a Bed of Lemongrass and Chive Risotto
Serves 2 (with a large amount of risotto left over)

5 c fish stock
1 c dry white wine
2 sticks lemongrass, sliced into rings
2 tbs olive oil
2 c Arborio rice
3 tbs lemon juice
1/2 c chopped chives
1/2 c Parmesan cheese

10 scallops
6 tbs melted butter
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tbs finely chopped cilantro

Place stock, wine and lemongrass into a saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat. Strain to remove lemongrass. Heat oil in large saucepan and fry rice for 1 minute.

Add stock a bit at a time to rice, stirring as you go. Cook, stirring and adding stock, for about 20 minutes, until rice is tender. Stir in lemon juice, chives and Parmesan. Cover and keep warm.

Mix scallops with butter, pepper and cilantro. Pan fry for a couple of minutes each side until opaque, taking care not to overcook.

Place risotto onto plates and pile scallops on top. 

We had this with a nice side salad and, as I mentioned above, there is a lot of risotto so you could easily double the amount of scallops and serve four people with the same amount of rice.

Now I shared the recipe with you as it is in the book. We had no complaints and ate it all quite happily. The flavors are very subtle. And that is where my palate's liking for strong flavors has a few suggestions for next time. If you like the recipe as is, by all means ignore what I am about to say. On the other hand, you might want to add some mint, either to the side salad or to the risotto itself (perhaps as a garnish) to kick up the Moroccan flavors a little. Alternatively, I can't help but admit that chili flakes are my current culinary best friend and I think a dash of chili flakes would add a satisfying spiciness to the dish.

Whatever you choose, bon appetit!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Book Review: A Life of Spice

It's not very often that I write a book review here at CrazyEnglishwomanCooks, and it's even less often that I write a review for a book that doesn't include any recipes.
But when food writer Monica Bhide asked if I would like to see a review copy of her latest book, A Life of Spice: Stories of Food, Culture and Life, I jumped at the chance.

I have been an admirer of Monica for several years now and have been delighted to get to know her a little through an online writing group. I highly recommend her books on Indian cooking. Her anthology, In Conversation with Exception Women, is one that I refer to time and time again whenever I feel in need of a little inspiration.

Now, in A Life of Spice, Monica shares a collection of essays tying together personal recollections and treasured memories of food described in beautifully rich language, accompanied by the stunning photography of Simi Jois.

Just one of the many vibrant photos by Simi Jois

A Life of Spice opens with an excerpt from Monica's upcoming food memoir, what she describes as "the beginning of our story. A story about finding yourself and your destiny when you have lost the very thing that defines you most: your homeland." The tale sets the stage for the remainder of the book, where it becomes clear that when you have lost your homeland, food remains as a means of knowing yourself, your culture, and your past.

One thing I have always loved about Monica's writing is her honesty. She is not afraid to hide her flaws. Her failings as a cook are openly acknowledged, celebrated even, as a step along the path to success. Who among us has not failed miserably in an attempt to make a dish? Yet all too often, we are faced with food writers who present only the successes, who seem to run from revealing that a dish has flopped, as if it somehow makes them less than perfect. Not so with Monica. Her essay Why We Are Afraid to Cook charmingly recalls her attempt to make pad thai. By her own admission, the results tasted abysmal. When she shared this tale, some readers responded with horror that she, a cookbook author, should publicly admit her shame. I, for one, relish such honesty about failing. It is what allows me to laugh at my own failures in the kitchen.
The wonderfully vivacious Monica Bhide. Photo by Lucy Schaffer.

But back to the book.

A Life of Spice is filled with personal tales, memories, family, and food. If you are a cook, you may find yourself picking up nuggets of inspiration, or perhaps taking an extra moment to sniff that cardamom before you put it in tonight's curry. But even if you are not a cook, you are an eater. And your mouth will water as you read, as you conjure up the aromas and tastes that Monica brings to life with words.

I have not yet finished A Life of Spice, but it will be on my e-reader as I travel to New York this week. And when I return, hopefully my hardcopy will have been delivered. Because - and trust me on this - as nice as the e-copy is, you will also want to appreciate the images that accompany the book.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Like Ice Cream? Like Creme Eggs? Then Combine the Two!

The older I get, the more I realize that tastes do indeed change with age. Tomatoes were something I couldn't stand when I was a teen; now I will happily consume a punnet of red cherry toms as a snack. Goat cheese, olives, avocado - all things that now are must-haves for me, but which I once couldn't stand to be near.

My palate has also moved away from sweets toward a preference for savory. With a choice between a hunk of cheese and a piece of candy, the cheese would win nine out of ten times.

But I still occasionally get cravings for sweets and when I do, there are usually only two things that can ease the yearning: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and good chocolate. Oh, and Culver's frozen custard. But that's not a sweet, right? It's an essential calcium fix!

Now our good friends the Blyths, like us, have adventurous palates. We've all lived in Japan. We've all traveled extensively. And we all have enjoyed the food wherever we go. So when we get together, we usually do something fun with food - anything from salsa tastings to Thanksgiving-themed pizza to the oddest combinations we can find. Last week, since we were getting together over Easter, the theme was set for a good old-fashioned candy binge. There was a spiral ham and some marvellous cheese, but the highlight of the table was dishes piled high with malted robin's eggs, candy floss, marshmallows, and more.... which is how we learned just how much our tastes had changed. It didn't take very long for us to all feel the effects of so much sugar (although I did reason that alternating with chunks of cheese was an excellent method of cutting the effects).

But we still had my contribution for the evening.

I have mentioned before the wonderful Christmas gift from my mother, My Cuisinart ice cream maker is a dream. Within 20 minutes, I have soft-serve ice cream and it makes just the right amount for a small household. So without further ado, I give you...

Chocolate Creme Egg Ice Cream

3 1/2 cups whipping cream
1/4 cup good quality cocoa powder
3/4 cup sugar
2 tbs agave nectar
pinch salt
4 tsp flour
4 oz milk chocolate chips
8 oz mini Creme Eggs, chopped up
1 tsp vanilla extract

Over a low heat, combine 2 cups cream, the cocoa, sugar, agave and salt. Add the chocolate chips and half of the mini eggs. Continue stirring over a low to medium heat, taking care not to let the mixture scorch. Stir until the chocolate has completely melted. Remove from the heat.

Mix a little of the remaining cream with the flour. Add this, along with the rest of the cream and the vanilla to the melted chocolate mix and stir well.

Put into a freezer bag and leave to cool in the fridge for a couple of hours, resisting the urge to drink it down now!

Once it has cooled, pour into your Cuisinart ice cream maker and run the machine for about 20 minutes. Pour in the rest of the chopped mini eggs and run for one or two more minutes so that they are nicely mixed in.

Now you have nice soft-serve ice cream, but I like to put mine in a Rubbermaid (BPA-free) container and leave in the freezer for another few hours to firm up a bit more.

The resulting ice cream is thick, rich, and oh so chocolatey!

Sadly, hubby and I spent much of Sunday recovering from the after-effects of our candy binge - once the sugar high had worn off, we were little better than extras from The Walking Dead. From now on, I'll enjoy my sweet stuff in moderation... and ice cream.