A Harmony of Flavors

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Easy Corn Chowder for a Cold Night

Lots of years ago, my Dad, who loved to cook and was quite creative, gave me a recipe he had made from some magazine. This was back in 1995, so it's been a while, and I don't have any idea what magazine it originally came from. It was called Hearty Corn Chowder. 

True to form, Dad tinkered with the recipe. This must be where all my sisters and I got this trait from. He wanted to make the soup while visiting on the occasion of my daughter's wedding. Dad said he sometimes added in grated carrot. I wanted to add garlic, which was conspicuous by its absence! I add garlic to everything - doesn't everyone? Over time, while the basics are still there, I have changed the amounts to suit my husband's and my taste. The thing that most intrigued me about the recipe in the first place is the use of Lit'l Smokies. A whole package of them go into the soup, along with a goodly portion of bacon. The rest is mostly opening cans: a can of whole kernel corn, a can of creamed corn and a can of evaporated milk. 

Hearty Corn Chowder
I don't even know how many servings this recipe was supposed to make. My Dad said it all depended on how hungry you were. I will say, on occasion, my husband and I have polished off the entire recipe all by ourselves. Did I mention how tasty this soup is?

Over time, I have mostly eliminated cans in my pantry. I say mostly, because there are some that I still use consistently like tomatoes, tomato sauce and tomato paste, canned corn (usually 50% sodium or no sodium), creamed corn (reserved only for making my Creamy Corn Casserole and this Chowder), various types of beans (kidney, white, cannellini, black, pinto, garbanzo) and evaporated milk, just to make life a bit easier. I no longer buy canned soups or most any products that contain more than one item. Most canned goods have so much sodium that I spend weeks at a time trying to get rid of excess water weight. Things like the creamed corn are used only for these couple of recipes and nothing else. 

Package of Lit'l Smokies
So back to this Chowder. It does call for three separate cans of things, plus the bacon and the Lit'l Smokies, so it is pushing my limit for using cans and processed foods, but once in a while, it is just good. As for the Lit'l Smokies, I usually keep some in the freezer, but use them mainly for holiday appetizers like Smokies in Puff Pastry. Sometimes they come in handy for this soup. Since our severe Winter weather started at the beginning of Fall, I decided to make this soup a couple of days back. I got out my old recipe, written as Dad gave it to me, just to compare and see what all I have changed. I was actually a little surprised at how much my recipe differed. Not in ingredients (except for the garlic!), but in the amounts. To me, 1/2 cup of chopped onion is just plain not enough - for that little, why bother at all? As for 1/2 cup of celery, well, while that would be enough in my book (I am not over fond of celery), it does make a great "filler" ingredient. And then of course, garlic. So this is my own take on this recipe. I do not use carrot. I wouldn't mind, but my husband doesn't care for carrots. Sorry, Dad! My husband does, however love potatoes (they must be peeled), so more potatoes are used. Obviously, the recipe turns out a bit larger than the original. We usually now have a little bit left over.

You may notice there is no salt listed in this recipe. Both bacon and the Lit'l Smokies are quite salty on their own, so they do an excellent job of making the soup palatable. I usually use the no sodium or 50% less sodium whole kernel corn, too. If your taste buds need salt, add it to taste. For us, it is perfect as is. If there is any place that does not carry Lit'l Smokies, substitute them with a good smoked sausage, cut into small cubes.

One thing Dad did recommend: make cornbread to accompany this chowder! Here is the recipe:

Hearty Corn Chowder

Hearty Corn Chowder

serves 3 - 4

1/2 pound bacon, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 small onion, chopped (about 1 1/4 cup)
3 large stalks celery, chopped (about1 1/4 cup) 
2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups potatoes in 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 medium)
1 1/2 cups water
1 (15.2-ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (14.75-ounce) can cream style corn
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1 (16.8-ounce) package Lit'l Smokies
1 tablespoon dried dillweed

In a large soup pot, fry the bacon until crisp. With a slotted spoon, scoop the bacon onto paper toweling to drain, reserving 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease in the pan. Add the onion and celery to the hot pan and saute the vegetables, stirring occasionally until golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and toss until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the cubed potatoes and the water, bring to boil and reduce to medium. Cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes. 

While the potatoes are cooking, cut each of the Lit'l Smokies into 3 pieces and set aside. Remove the cover from the pot and stir in all the remaining ingredients, along with the reserved bacon and return to boil. Set heat to low, cover the pot and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Best served with cornbread on the side.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Friday, November 21, 2014

Musing on Thanksgiving Meals

My sister's feast with family, 2010
As an aside, it has been slow going, as it usually is when returning from a trip. I always have a hard time getting back into my routine, meaning things I normally get to are left for last - like this blog. That does not mean I have not been cooking! At present I have enough new things made to write for days. However, with Thanksgiving looming on the near horizon, some time has been spent pinpointing the recipes I want to make for this holiday. To change a recipe I love? Or not? Just an adjustment?

Our feast with friends, 2011
I never stray too far from my usual. All the things I grew up eating, like roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes and cranberries are always on my menu. However, aside from the fact that I am making the same foods, none of my recipes are even comparable to what my Mom made.

I loved Thanksgiving at my Mom's table. She stuffed her bird, back before all the dire warnings of illness due to stuffing cooked wrongly, and I loved that stuffing best. It was made with a cubed loaf of bread, fried bacon, onion fried in the rendered grease, parsley, eggs and milk. Over the years things changed. As I learned more about cooking, I added things i thought would taste good. Making Mom's stuffing recipe, it seemed natural to add in some apple, some grated nuts, reduce some of the grease, try to approximate the flavors of stuffing in the bird - without stuffing the bird!  My stuffing recipe morphed over the years to become Better than Mom's Stuffing. This year it is morphing again, but I will get to that after the fact. My ideas at this point are to proceed as usual, but substitute cornbread for part of the bread in the recipe, and to add in a jar of whole chestnuts. 
Better than Mom's Stuffing

She made mashed potatoes with butter and milk, salt and pepper. Her sweet potatoes were canned, partially drained and cooked down with some butter and brown sugar as a glaze. Her gravy was delicious, though I cannot say how she made it. Cranberries were from a can and most usually the "jellied" variety, sliced. Did you know that there exists a silver cranberry server? Actually, it seems that in Victorian times this piece was to serve tomatoes, but there is nothing like re-purposing, right?

Tomato or Cranberry Server
I do not stuff my turkey any longer; have not for many years. I often rub some mixture under the skin for flavor, like my Herbed Butter for Turkey or Chicken. In many prior years, I just stuck sprigs of fresh rosemary & thyme, with some onion wedges and garlic cloves under the skin. 

I cook 2 or 3 parsnips with my potatoes and then rice them, adding cream cheese or goat cheese and chopped scallions or chives. I make a Sweet Potato Casserole I have been making since the early 1980s. My stock is made using extraneous bits and pieces of the turkey (gizzards, neck, wingtips, extraneous fat chunks) and is used as the basis for my gravy. The pan drippings get added to the stock later on, before making the gravy.
Cranberry Orange Relish

I make my own Cranberry Orange Relish. My recipe for many, many years is a variation on many out there using orange juice as the cooking liquid. This year I am changing that recipe again. I had a bottle of Ruby Port open since using some to make the Fall Fruit Compote to accompany Pheasant Alfredo. I wanted to use some of this Port as a part of the cooking liquid for the fresh cranberries, along with orange juice. My thought was to first cook the Port down to about half the amount, to concentrate the flavors and lend sweetness. An alternative I would like to try some day is using pomegranate juice instead of the Port for this recipe. I imagine it will give great flavors also, and I would recommend it for those of you who do not use wine at all.

Yesterday was the day for this experiment. I have never, ever put spices into my cranberry sauce, but this year I did add in a small Cassia cinnamon stick, plus a little cheesecloth bag of 1/2 teaspoon each cardamom seeds and allspice berries. The smell in the kitchen was just heavenly while the wine cooked down!
A cup of Port  |  cooking Port with spices  | peeled sections of orange rind  |  orange sliced julienne style

I still used orange juice for the rest of the liquid, but used less sugar, overall. I added in a cup of dried cherries, for that flavor element. Along with orange zest, I also added lime zest and grated fresh ginger. I took plenty of photos while making it, but did not display the finished product  to get great photos. Those will be added in later on. Meanwhile, this is my Cran-Cherry Relish with Ruby Port:

Cooked to Jam Consistency

Cran-Cherry Relish with Ruby Port

Makes about 4 cups 

1 cup Ruby Port
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon whole cardamom seeds
1 stick (4-inches) cassia cinnamon stick12 ounces fresh cranberries (about 3 cups)
1 cup dried cherries
1 1/4 cup orange juice
3 parings of fresh orange zest, about 1 x 3-inches each
1 1/4 cup granulated sugar
zest of one lime or lemon
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

In a 4 - 6 quart saucepan, bring the port to a boil. Wrap the allspice berries and cardamom seeds in a piece of cheesecloth and add them to the pot with the cassia cinnamon stick. Boil the mixture on medium for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until it has reduced to half. If the prep is not yet done, remove the pan from the heat until it is all done.  

Grated lime zest    |    grated fresh ginger    |   dried cherries   |   all added to the reduced Port   |  and cooked to perfection
If the rest of the ingredients are prepped and ready, add all of them in now. Stir together and return the mixture to boil. Almost immediately, the cranberries will begin to pop. I like to mash them against the side of the pan with a wooden spoon, freeing the insides. This helps thicken the mixture. After about 8 to 10 minutes at a gentle boil, the mixture should have thickened appreciably, to a jam consistency. Remove from heat, cool. Pour into a container, cover and refrigerate. The relish will keep at least 2 weeks well covered in the refrigerator. A great Do-Ahead dish for a busy time!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Chapatis are an Indian Version of Tortillas

Meaning to get to this blog days ago, I have been doing other things since returning from our trip. I made Lamb Korma last week and decided that while my husband is absolutely wild about Indian Naan bread, this time I was going to give a go with making Chapatis instead. I am not sure if he cared for them, truly. He said nothing at all. Still, I cannot completely go with making only what my husband will eat; it's just a little too prohibitive for my tastes. Sometimes I absolutely must try something that intrigues me.

Kamut® Khorasan
Kamut® Khorasan

Part of the reason I decided on something other than Naan Bread (apart from the fact that it is, by popular acclaim, the only bread accompaniment for Indian meals in my house), is that while on our trip, I stopped at The Whole Foods Market and found Kamut® Khorasan berries (triticum turgidum ssp. turanicum) in the bulk aisle! I have used Kamut® in past, as a flour that was a variation on regular wheat flour, and that so many are allergic to. It has been available in flour form for quite some time. Kamut® Khorasan is an ancient strain of wheat, along with another called "Emmer". These two tetraploid strains have 28 chromosomes instead of the 42 found in our hexaploid strain of durum wheat of today. Kamut® Khorasan berries are nearly twice the size of our modern wheat berries. When I bought Kamut® flour in past, I thought that Kamut® was the name of the type of wheat, but was in error. The name of this grain is actually Khorasan, referring to a historical region in modern Afghanistan and northern Iraq. The title of "Kamut®" Khorasan was given later by two brothers in Montana. Growing this strain of wheat in hopes of preserving the strain cleanly, they registered the name of Kamut.

Size comparison of the grains
So, i bought about a pound or so of the whole Kamut® Khorasan berries and had no particular plan for how to use them. In reading about both the Kamut® itself and recipes for Chapatis, these flat bread recipes call for a whole grain flour. Kamut® has a lovely nutty, buttery flavor and has far less bitterness than our modern wheat. Since Chapatis are made with whole grain flour, and since Afghanistan and Iraq are setting just above India (Northern Indian cuisine has much influence from these areas), I felt that possibly Kamut® Khorasan would be the perfect flour for these breads. To top it all off, my husband recently bought me a Wonder Mill grain mill, so this would make quick work of milling the Kamut® Khorasan berries.

Chapati recipes are all basically the same. Use a whole grain flour. Moisten it enough with water to be pliable but not wet. Knead it. Make Chapatis. The basic ratio of flour to liquid is identical everywhere I looked for comparison. The only technicality would be if you live in a very dry climate or a very humid climate, as this affects how much water will actually be needed. If you live in a humid place like Florida or Louisiana for example, your flour will already be more water saturated than if you live in Arizona. I live in neither of these places, but climate in the high plains is often dry. Add to that the heat running in the house for more than a month already, with temperatures already been dipping below zero regularly. Dry.

On to the Chapatis

As far as Indian breads go, there are quite a few types and styles. Even Naan, which is getting to be very well known, can be made as a yeast dough or may be leavened with simple baking powder. The store varieties are certainly not yeast breads, and most very closely resemble large, soft flatbreads or pitas without pockets. Chapatis are more similar to a flour tortilla, in that they are most basically a simple and unleavened, thin, flat cake, traditionally cooked on a flat griddle called a tava. At home a hot skillet works just fine. Other Indian breads are many. To name a few, there are rotis (similar to chapatis), parathas (larger, thicker, fried), puris (fried and puffed up) and papadums (crispy). Each of these is unleavened. The differences are in how they are made, thickness, size and texture. I hope to make parathas again sometime soon. I have made them in past and they turned out very well. (If any of these descriptions is in error, please pardon me. I have not a drop of Indian blood in me, but am endlessly fascinated with all things Indian).
Flour water & oil mixed    |    dough well kneaded    |    rested and cut in portions    |    dough rolled into 6 - 7-inch circles

It is most common to make all of these breads with whole grain flour, though some are made with white flour. The recipe's ratio of flour to water is 3 parts whole grain flour to 1 part water. Some recipes call for added oil or ghee; some do not. I added a little oil to my recipe. Some recipes call for mixing the ingredients and kneading briefly to combine, while some recipes call for kneading for longer periods of time. Longer kneading yields a more elastic dough, easily rolled and shaped without tearing. 

I spent some time here on the detail of using Kamut® Khorasan flour. Whole wheat flour may as easily be used. It is an option to leave the dough, once kneaded, for a minimum of an hour, and even better if it is left overnight, before proceeding to roll out the chapatis.


makes 8 chapatis

1 1/2 cups whole grain flour; wheat or Kamut® Khorasan
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon of oil or ghee
more oil or ghee for cooking the chapatis

In a bowl, combine the flour and water, mixing to combine. Add the oil or ghee and blend in. Turn the mixture out onto a very lightly floured surface or an oiled surface. Knead the dough for at least 5 minutes; more ideally for about 9 minutes. This develops the gluten in the flour, making it easier to roll out and form the chapatis without tearing. Set the dough aside to rest, covered, for at least one hour, or longer if possible. If leaving to rest overnight, place the dough, well wrapped, in the refrigerator until ready to use.
dough circle just placed in hot pan      |        bubbles forming under the surface    |          flipped over and nearly done     

Cut the dough into 8 equal sized pieces. Roll each portion of dough into a smooth ball. Lightly flour a surface and roll the dough into a thin circle of about 6 or 7-inches diameter. Heat a skillet to medium heat. Add in a small amount of oil or ghee to the pan and place one of the circles of dough in the hot pan. Almost immediately it will begin to form bubbles. Turn the chapati to cook the opposite side once the first side has well browned spots, about 2 minutes. Once flipped over, the opposite side should also have nicely browned spots, about 1 minute longer. Remove to a towel lined container and continue to make each individual chapati in the same manner.

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Making a Lamb Curry

It's been about 2 1/2 weeks since I wrote. An unexpected trip came up, and unfortunately, the time and place I had intended to write had no wi-fi hookup. Then I was with my sisters and families and while I had an absolute ball seeing family again, there was no time at all left over to write a blog. But shopping - ahhhh. We Shopped. Capital "S".

I am home now, and just before we left on this trip I had received delivery of a whole, butchered lamb, much to my joy. Lamb here is extremely expensive, if one can even find it, so when I was at the Farmers' Market just over a month back, I was overjoyed to see a sign saying "Ask Me About Lamb!" I went to the woman and asked! She said they raise sheep and were looking to get into the market a bit more widely around here. Her name is Marie Kimlicka and I was overjoyed to tell her right there and then that I wanted a lamb. As I said, it was delivered just before our trip, so I had not had an opportunity to use it before we left. As soon as we got back I remedied that right away.

My husband and I love lamb, and one of my most favorite ways to make it is in something Indian. I had made Keema Matar (ground lamb with peas) in past, but since living up here, I have only been able to make it with beef hamburger meat. The recipe is on my website and will work with either meat. Our dinner was so delightful. Yesterday I wanted to try out the stew meat. In these parts they call it "chislic", and it is used most often to either fry or stew and often is served with toothpicks as an appetizer. Marie said she used hers most often to make her curries. I was a little dismayed to find out just how much fat was on these bits and pieces of meat. To use it as chislic would have been fine, as frying the meat would render a large portion of the fat away. To use in a curry type dish (without browning the meat), this was just far too much fat for my taste. I easily trimmed off 1/2 pound of fat from the 1 1/2 pound package of chislic meat. Oh well.
Lamb Korma with rice and Chapatis

My Korma Konundrum

There is a recipe that is in all of my Indian cookbooks (about 6 or so), called Korma. Usually made with lamb, this dish has a sauce that is very pale and in some cases, bland. Surprising, when you think about Indian cooking to have a recipe come out so bland. I have tried various iterations of the recipe from many of these books and have never been quite satisfied. It is one thing to have a nice, light sauce with lots of flavor. I love my Chicken and Dumplings with its creamy-white sauce and great flavor. The Korma has mostly been, well, meh. I sat down yesterday with all my books laid open to the page with this recipe, to try and piece together what, exactly makes Korma. I created a recipe based on my findings. I am not Indian, though I just love all the flavors and spices. How much of what I did is genuinely authentic, I have no clue. All I can say for sure is that the result was most excellent.

From my study of all the recipes in all these books, there are some things that stand out as common parts of this recipe. One is the particular masala used. Masala is a mixture of spices; nothing more. In the case of a Korma, in every book these spices were at minimum coriander, cumin, cinnamon and cardamom. I added a tiny bit of cloves and a small bay leaf, both found in one particular recipe. Another thing that is common to all the recipes is the use of plain yogurt for a marinade. A third thing common to all the recipes is the use of nuts to thicken the sauce. Most common (and according to one book's explanation, most authentic) is almonds, though cashews can be used. A fourth thing is that the sauce is created from pureeing together onions and garlic (at minimum), with the possible additions of fresh ginger root and green chiles to your tolerance lever. Some add in dried red chiles also. I do not mind some slightly hotter dishes, but my husband is a South Dakota boy, born and bred, and he jokes that ketchup is the hottest he can stand. 

One thing only differed in one of the recipes. When it came to making this pureed sauce, most books had one pureeing raw onion, garlic and ginger. One book only called for first sauteing the onions golden, adding the garlic and ginger to the pan to make them fragrant and then pureeing this combination into a sauce, along with the blanched almonds. This seemed to make more sense, as I have been looking for more flavor. 

One complaint about the Kormas I have made, aside from lack of flavor, is that the sauce always seems to be enough for 2 or 3 recipes worth of meat. If the almonds are supposed to thicken the sauce, there is just no way to thicken this much runny liquid, and the cooking time would have to double in order to cook out some of the liquid. By first sauteing the onions, garlic and ginger, and then pureeing with the almonds, the mixture was so thick I had to add far more than the 1/2 cup of water I had allotted to this task. Beef or lamb stock could (and perhaps should) be substituted for the water, but I hadn't enough time to accomplish the making of a stock beforehand. Water it was, then.

Blanching Almonds

Blanching almonds is an easy enough task. It can be a bit time-consuming, depending on how many almonds need to be used. When blanching and peeling a pound of them for making almond paste, it is time consuming indeed. For the purposes of this small recipe it was a snap. It is best to use whole, raw almonds, when blanching and peeling. Place the almonds into a saucepan and just cover with water. Bring the pan to a boil, remove from heat and let rest for a minute. Drain and rinse with cold water, then hold an almond in one hand and pinch the skin (which is now very loose) at the thicker end. The white almond will start to pop out of the pointed end. Once in a while, one almond will be contrary and pop out the blunt end, but not often. Do this with each almond, until they are all done.

If using for a sauce such as this Korma, they are now ready to use. If looking to process into a powder that will be stored, they will first need to be dried completely, so as not to rot.

Lamb Korma

serves 2 to 3
Lamb Korma with rice and chapatis

1 pound lamb stew meat, in small chunks
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 tablespoon rosewater (or plain water, if rosewater is not available)
1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon ghee or cooking oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 - 3 green chilies (serrano, jalapeno)
1/2 cup almonds, blanched and peeled
1/2 - 3/4 cup water or stock

1 1/2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1-inch true cinnamon stick, crumbled
1/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds (or remove the seeds from two green pods)
2 whole cloves
1 small bay leaf, vein removed, crumbled

Make the marinade: Stir together the saffron threads with the rosewater or plain water and set aside for a few minutes while preparing the meat. In a bowl large enough to hold the meat and yogurt, mix together the yogurt with the saffron and its soaking liquid and the salt. Add in the meat and toss to coat completely with the marinade. Cover the container and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
Sauteed onion mixture in blender  |  blanched almonds added     |     mixture pureed with water     |     finished sauce

Make the sauce: Set the almonds to blanch as described above. Heat a skillet and add in the ghee or oil with the onions and saute, stirring very often until the onions begin to turn golden, about 10 to 12 minutes. While onions are sauteing, prepare the green chilies. If you love the heat, remove the stems and chop them whole. For less heat, remove seeds and membranes also before chopping. Add in the garlic, ginger and chilies and saute for another 3 to 5 minutes, until the ginger and garlic become very fragrant. Pour the sauteed mixture into a blender. Add in the blanched and peeled almonds and some of the water or stock and blend until smooth, adding more water by small amounts, only as needed. If done earlier in the day, or even a day before, place this pureed mixture into a container with a lid and refrigerate until needed.

Masala Spices
Make the Masala: Heat a dry skillet over medium heat until quite hot. Add in all the whole spices and stir constantly and shake the pan often until the spices are very fragrant and lightly toasted, about 1 or 2 minutes, depending on how hot the pan. Pour the toasted spices at once onto a plate to cool. Leaving them in the pan will overcook or burn them. Once cooled, grind them in a small spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Set aside until needed.

Make the Korma: In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon more ghee or oil. Add in the sauce and the Masala mixture and stir well to combine. Add in the meat with its marinade and stir well. Cover and cook the mixture over low heat for about 45 minutes or an hour. Serve the Korma with rice. Chapatis make a nice accompaniment - recipe in next blog!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. 


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Has Anyone Heard of Peppadews

Unfilled Peppadews®
Some years back I tried Peppadews® at a party. They were filled with something cheesy and were just delicious. I didn't know at the time that these little peppers are quite unique. The name "Peppadew®" has even  even been registered. Apparently they were discovered not all that long ago (1993) in South Africa. They are little bitty peppers and look very like a cherry tomato in size and shape. Obviously, being peppers, they do vary in shape, with some sized and shaped very much like a little heart (chicken, pheasant, etc), while others are larger and rounder. While these little gems are not available everywhere, their availability is becoming more widespread, and of course they are available on Amazon

Peppadews® are a little bit spicy and a little bit sweet. While they are peppers with a scoville rating of 1,177, this rating is low, similar to Anaheim peppers or Pasilla peppers. They arrive here in the US already marinated and processed, either in cans or jars. The marinade they are subjected to adds sweetness, and it is this sweetness, balancing the minimal heat that just makes these tiny gems so irresistible. 

Why Peppadews®

Cheese Filled Peppadews®
So, you may be asking why am I bringing up these little peppers in the first place? Well a couple of months back, I was walking into our local grocery with my daughter-in-law, Julia (visiting with my son Ken, from Chicago). We were fast and furiously discussing foods and recipes as we always do, both of us being avid foodies. The subject of Peppadews® came up and she asked me if I ever used them to make anything. I had just been saying I had not seen them locally, so no, I had not used them - - when we both looked over at the deli and there they were! Available even up here in Aberdeen! Amazing! Most things can be found here, at a price.

So they sort of stayed high in my mind ever since, but I'd had no occasion to buy them. However, our friend Rich was here for pheasant hunting, and he loves to eat also. I figured this would be a good time to experiment. I walked over to Kessler's, the local grocery, and bought a few. There were about 25 little peppers in the deli container for a bit over four dollars, so they aren't cheap, but not too bad either. I brought them home and started to think about what to fill them with. Cheese, obviously, but mixed with what? How? What kind(s) of cheese? 

I had goat cheese, which we just love, and I always keep cream cheese handy, so those were the first two flavors I turned to when puzzling out the flavor profile I was looking for. I had scallions in the fridge, so those would go in. Garlic? With Rich here, garlic is a MUST. In just about everything. Once I mixed these things together and tasted the result, it tasted a little flat. I added in a little Sherry vinegar. Then I added a little olive oil, to smooth out the flavors. It tasted most wonderful, so I filled the peppers. 
Cheese Filled Peppadews

This was the first time I used these peppers, so there are a few tips I can, with confidence, pass on:
  1. Drain the Peppadews® first and set them upside-down on paper toweling to dry well before filling. Otherwise, the filling just wants to slip out if the pepper is still very wet inside. I found this out by trial and error.
  2. The peppers are easiest to fill using a piping bag or a zip-top baggie with a corner cut off. I wanted to make mine look cute by using an open star tip, but I selected a tip far too large, so some of my first attempts to fill them were quite a mess.
  3. Then the issue of how to present them. These little peppers have no flat bottom. If you want them to stand up pretty like cherry tomatoes, it ain't gonna happen, folks! Set them on your serving dish, artfully arranged, either leaning on each other or just laying them on their sides. Enjoy their differences of shape and just flow with it!
  4. Goat cheese comes in various flavors these days, so choosing one with interesting flavors will add other flavor notes to the recipe, if desired.

Cheese Filled Peppadews®

20 - 25 little appetizer bites

20 - 25 Peppadews®
4 ounces goat cheese (Chevre or Montrachet)
2 ounces cream cheese
2 scallions, minced (white and light green parts)
1 large clove fresh garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil

Drain the Peppadews® and set them upside-down on paper toweling to drain for about an hour. 

Prepare a piping bag with either a #10 or 12 round icing tip or a #21 or 32 open star tip. Or, just cut a hole in the end of the piping bag (or zip-top baggie) measuring no more than 1/4-inch in diameter.

Wilton tips: 10 & 12 round; 21 & 32 open star
Set the cheeses on a counter to come to room temperature for at least a half hour. Place the room-temperature cheeses into a small mixing bowl with the minced scallion and garlic and mix well with a spoon, to combine. Once well mixed, add in the vinegar and olive oil. Place this mixture into the prepared piping bag. Squeeze the mixture down to the point. Grab the bag tightly between thumb and forefinger just above the filling. Hold tightly to the bag and twist to create pressure on the contents. Squeeze enough filling into each little pepper to completely fill the inside. Set them on a plate to serve.

MAKE AHEAD: The cheese mixture can easily be made 3 or 4 days ahead, if making for a party. The recipe for the filling can be doubled or tripled or as needed. The peppers will last fine in the refrigerator as long as they are covered in enough of their marinade/brine mixture. If filling for a party, try to fill them as close to serving time as possible, only because since they will not stand upright, they tend to knock into one another, smearing the filling all over!

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Great Side Dish for Wild Fowl

Our dear friend Rich left this morning. He was here for 10 days to get in some pheasant hunting. On his second day out with another hunter here, Rich brought home 3 pheasants, and my last two blog posts were of the recipes I used for these birds. Yesterday Rich went out again, coming back with 2 more pheasants, but these he brined to take home with him. We so enjoy having Rich here to visit, but all visits come to an end, no matter how wonderful.
Fall Fruit Compote

When thinking up recipes for the last birds, Rich's idea is always to brine them first, then possibly follow the brining with another soak of some kind. Last year he soaked the pheasant pieces in buttermilk all day following the brine. This year, one of the birds was used after just having been brined, while the second spent time in a wine marinade. No matter how one treats these wild birds, they are rather dry. Luckily I like the drier meat, though my husband is less keen on it, in general. To me, the breast portion of these wild birds tastes like dry dark meat. I don't care for the dark meat of turkey or chicken, because it is generally fatty and moist. Somehow, the flavor and fattiness are objectionable to me. Others just love it. For me, dry pheasant breast meat makes a darker meat palatable. 

No matter how you choose to go about preparing a wild bird, there will come the need for a side dish or other condiment to pair with it. While marinating the second half of the birds in wine, I originally had in mind to bake the bird in a wine sauce with a lot of dried fruits. Since that just wasn't coming together in my mind, Rich suggested making the fruits as a side dish. Aha! 

Dried Mission Figs from www.Nuts.com
Last year I had so many apples to freeze, I eventually went to dehydration instead of just freezing. Since I have all these dehydrated apple slices, I have looked for uses for the dried fruit. I had added some of them to the wine marinade for the birds, but wanted to use some in the final dish - which now switched to a side dish. Dried fruit retains a lot of sweetness. In thinking about cranberry relish to go with a roast turkey, and gauging the sweetness factor there, I opted to use Port as the main cooking liquid for the dried fruit. 

The Port Dilemma

We like Port wine on occasion, so I have various types in our wine cellar. We have some 10-year-old late bottled ports, some Warre's Otima Tawny Port, some Ruby Ports, some Warre's Warrior and Fonseca Bin 27s, as well as a few vintage ports. Looking at the attributes of each type, I certainly didn't want to use a pricy vintage port to cook dried fruit. I also thought that Tawny would not give the rich color I wanted, plus it is less sweet than some of the red ports. Still, some of the fruits were very dark, like the figs and prunes (excuse me - ahem - "dried plums!"), so did I want a really dark wine like the Warre's Warrior or Fonseca Bin 27? Probably not, so ultimately I chose the Ruby Port. Ruby Port is exactly as it sounds: ruby red colored. It is quite sweet and pretty to look at, but generally less viscous than a deep red port. It is enjoyable to drink, in the manner of a more simple-to-enjoy dessert quaff. 

Fresh Quinces
For other liquids I used some dry red wine and some water. Sweetener? I chose honey. Spices? That took some thought. I didn't want to use all the regular sweet spices, though cinnamon was still in the running. I left out cloves or allspice. I did use a half teaspoon of black peppercorns. Since I use only Tellicherry peppercorns, their fruity scent would help perfume the compote yet add a little bite. I meant to put them into a tea ball to easily pick out later, but just that fast I dropped them into the pot - oops! We had to fish them out later. Last minute I added one whole (small) star anise. Orange was another flavor I wanted to incorporate, but not to make any statement of its own. To this end, using a peeler, I peeled off a long strip of orange peel while leaving the white pith behind; removing the peel from the compote later is a snap. Another option would have been to either grate the rind or chop the peeled section and leave it in the mixture.

All that was left was to determine which fruits to use. The main idea was to use dried fruits, but there were two exceptions. I really wanted quince, if there were any available. Quince is a tart fruit that looks somewhat like a misshapen yellow apple. It needs to be cooked to make it edible. Quince has even more pectin than apples, and makes a wonderful jam. I felt they would also lend great flavor as well as thickening power to this compote. I was very glad to find that quinces were available. The other fruit not already dried were fresh cranberries, another great Fall flavor. Other fruits that were handy were dried cherries, apricots, figs and plums. With this in mind, here is what I did:
Fall Fruit Compote

Fall Fruit Compote

makes about 6 or more servings

1 1/2 cups Ruby Port
1 cup dry red wine
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup honey
1 (4-inch) cassia cinnamon stick 
1 whole star anise, optional
1/2 teaspoon whole peppercorns, preferably Tellicherry
1 orange
2 quince
3/4 cup (.75 ounce) dried apple slices 

1/2 cup (3 ounces) dried apricots, halved or quartered
1/2 cup (3 ounces) dried plums (prunes), halved
1/2 cup (3 ounces) dried Mission figs, halved
1/2 cup (2 ounces) dried tart cherries
boiling water
3/4 cup (2.5 ounces) whole fresh cranberries

fresh Cranberries
In a large saucepan, combine the first 4 ingredients. If desired, set the cinnamon stick, star anise and peppercorns in a piece of cheesecloth for ease of removal later, then add this to the pan. Peel a strip or two of orange peel, avoiding the white pith. Add to the pan, along with the juice squeezed from the orange. Peel, quarter and core the quince and slice them as with apples; add to the pan. Bring the mixture in the pan to boil, then set the temperature to just maintain a low boil. Reduce the liquid in the pan by about 1/3, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, set the dried apple slices, apricots, prunes, figs and cherries in a large measuring cup or medium bowl. Add boiling water to just not quite cover the fruit and allow the fruit to plump, covered, while the liquid in the saucepan is reducing. 

Once the wine mixture is reduced, add in the dried fruits along with the soaking water and the fresh cranberries. Cook this mixture at a low boil for another 20 to 25 minutes, until reduced and slightly thickened. Remove the spices before serving.

This compote was absolutely perfect with the decadently rich Pheasant Alfredo. It had enough flavor and just enough "bite" to cut through the fattiness of the sauce and make a wonderful counterpoint to the flavors. I cannot recommend this mixture highly enough, and plan to make it again soon, possibly for Thanksgiving, to taste with turkey or chicken. 

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.