A Harmony of Flavors

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A Dessert Loaf Made with Honey

While recovering from a trip to the dentist this morning and waiting for the Novocaine to wear off, I was casting about for something new to make. Nothing was coming to mind. Sometimes when that happens, I get out my notebooks full of notes. I keep a notebook by my chair when I watch TV, so if something strikes my fancy I jot down notes on what it was, or what about it called my attention. Many times it is a certain part of a recipe that calls me. For example, Carla Hall was making little parfaits with lemon curd layered with a whipped cream with marshmallow fluff. The whipped cream with marshmallow fluff does not call me in the least, but the way she made the lemon curd called my attention. Sometimes it is a sauce, but not the entree. Or a frosting but not the cake. You may get the picture.

Some of these notes in my various notebooks are pretty old, but that doesn't mean they weren't of interest. It only means I hadn't gotten around to it just yet. So, I have no clue where or when I jotted down something about a Honey Loaf. I haven't done much with honey as one of the main sweeteners in a dessert or dessert loaf. I know that it can harden cookies. I made some cookies when I lived in Guatemala. The recipe was from my 1966 copy of The Joy of Cooking.The cookies came out so hard that the only way one could actually eat them without breaking a tooth (which was why I was at the dentist this morning) was to dip them in hot coffee long enough to soften for a bite. Maybe it was that experience that has kept me from exploring the use of honey any further.

Honey Pistachio Loaf with cardamom and orange flower water
Don't misunderstand. I love honey and I use it a lot. Just not in cakes, cookies or pies. I switched from granulated sugar in my Mom's Bread recipe and now use honey exclusively in that recipe. Honey on toast is marvelous. A little honey drizzled over pork chops while they are cooking is also wonderful. So, obviously, when I jotted down something about a Honey Loaf, I was hoping to branch out in the uses of honey. Well, today was that day. 

My Orange Flower Water
I looked at the ingredients I left when I jotted notes. I had nothing about eggs. I wondered about that. I looked online. I found some pretty complex (as in multitudes of ingredients) recipes, as well as some simpler. All of them used a lot of the warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, allspice and such. I felt that with honey I would prefer to go in the direction of a more Greek or Middle Eastern flavor profile. Some recipes called for butter and some called for oil. I was going to opt for melted butter. As I was noting what i wanted to do with my version of a Honey Loaf, I considered. In many places now I have seen the use of olive oil even in cakes. I felt that possibly that might be the direction to go with this loaf. I had a particular "flavor" dancing around in my brain, and I was creating the recipe to hopefully reflect what I imagined.

Ultimately, my version turned out just exactly as I had "tasted" in my mind, so I am more than pleased. Not everything turns out so well on the first try, but this loaf is just excellent. I used cardamom as the only spice, plus some orange rind and orange flower water. If you do not have cardamom or orange flower water, just substitute with cinnamon and or any of the pie spices you choose. You may use cognac or other alcohol in place of the orange flower water, or just use vanilla, which always works. If you use salted pistachios to grind (I used a small Bullet Blender with the flat blade for dry ingredients), omit the salt. If you do not have pistachios, use whatever kind of ground nuts you prefer. I would like to try this with pine nuts some time. The main body of the recipe can stay the same. The loaf grew beautifully in the pan and was done in just over an hour. Here is what I did:

Honey Pistachio Loaf

Makes one 9 x 5-inch loaf
Fresh out of the pan

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 or 2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup honey
1/2 cup olive oil (I used extra virgin)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon orange flower water
1 tablespoon fresh orange zest
1 cup ground pistachios

Preheat oven to 325 degrees (300 on Convection Bake). Spray a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cardamom (or other spice), baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a mixer bowl, combine the honey and olive oil and beat together. Add the eggs and beat the mixture at medium speed for at least 3 minutes. Add in the orange flower water and orange zest and mix to combine. Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, mixing slowly to combine. Add the pistachios and mix gently until incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow the loaf to rest in the pan for at least 5 minutes before turning out on a rack to cool.  

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, September 17, 2014

A Different Sort of Pizza and Crust

I have tried many pizza dough recipes in past. More recently I made a batch from Peter Reinhart's book, "The Bread Baker's Apprentice". Ever since I inherited a stack of bread baking books, I have been working with mainly this one by Peter Reinhart, but now in the past couple of weeks have been reviewing Maggie Glezer's, "Artisan Baking Across America. My first loaf from this book was an excellent, dense rye and whole wheat loaf called Dutch Regale's Finnish Rye Bread ("Dutch Regale" was a bakery in Texas, apparently no longer in business). I love these heavy and dense breads. I love a really good chew and I love the flavors. I have nothing against a really good, crusty white bread. I made Jim Lahey's No Knead Breads steadily for over two years before receiving this influx of books and taking a detour from the no-knead concept. I also buy whole wheat and rye berries (kept in the freezer until needed) and grind them myself when possible, to have the freshest grain. I have a grain mill attachment for my Kitchen Aid Mixer and it has gotten a lot of use.
Sullivan Street Potato Pizza from Maggie Glezer's Artisan Baking Across America

As I was once again looking for a bread to make a few days ago, I came across a recipe for Sullivan Street Potato Pizza. I know Sullivan Street Bakery is Jim Lahey's, so I was intrigued. The photo looked really wonderful. Using potatoes on pizza is not a new concept for me. Long, long ago when staying at Caesar's Palace during a conference my husband was attending, we stopped and ate at Spago's in the Forum Shops. I ordered a potato and rosemary pizza with Gorgonzola. It was absolute heaven. The potatoes, cut into slices about 1/4-inch thick, were in a single layer, well apart from each other. The rosemary was fresh and the Gorgonzola was creamy. I am not one for a lot of tomato sauce. My preference is generally a white pizza of some kind and this fit the bill. Don't get me wrong, I really love a good, fresh Margherita Pizza too. I digress.

The thing is, ever since that pizza at Spago's, I have made something similar for myself most times I make pizza at home. I had nothing to go on for a recipe except my memory, but the pizzas still taste fabulous. When the rage of making pizza on the grill took over, I was making my potato, rosemary and Gorgonzola pizzas on the grill. I bake the potato ahead and slice it to use on the pizza. So finding this recipe for a potato pizza with rosemary made me curious. I did not look it up online but just followed the book as stated. I am beginning to wonder a little about how true these recipes are.
Sliced Pizza with piles of potatoes

I believe something went amiss in Ms. Glezer's rendition of the recipe. While her recipe states that it makes 2 smaller or one half-sheet pan size pizza, the topping calls for a whopping FOUR POUNDS of Yukon Gold potatoes. That is a lot of potatoes, folks. I was looking online just now and there is a recipe for Sullivan Street Potato Pizza out there in various places, making a pizza crust of the same size, but using TWO potatoes. Not even two pounds, but just 2 potatoes. I am digressing again, sigh. I followed the recipe as stated in the book. I used the whole 4 pounds of potatoes, though it seemed awfully excessive. I used a whole onion, as called for, though this part left my husband out as he hates onions on something where he can see the pieces. I did what the book said and layered the very thin slices of potato with salt, allowing them to drip for a while, then squeezing excess liquid out before combining them with the onion and rosemary and setting them onto the pizza "dough". 
Very wet dough    |    large colander of potatoes with onion and rosemary    |    all ingredients on the dough

The dough on the pan; note how wet it is
And this "dough" recipe is unlike anything I have seen to date. It is so runny it is actually poured out onto a heavily oiled pan and gently patted out with well oiled hands - over time with 10-minute resting intervals, because this dough (batter) is so thin and wet. The book's instructions for making the dough/batter say to beat the batter for 20 minutes, then add in a small amount of salt and sugar and beat for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. At which time it is just a puddle, though it has visibly developed the gluten. Pouring the batter onto the sheet pan was interesting, because it actually "sheeted" down. Still, it came out well, though runny. The crust of the pizza had a different texture than I am used to. It made a base for all those potatoes though, and that was the whole idea. The potatoes, onions and rosemary made such a huge pile. It called for baking the pizza for 45 minutes, which was about right for getting all those potatoes cooked through. I did top the pizza with a 5-ounce package of crumbled Gorgonzola cheese, because I love that combination, and it helps give the potatoes some zip in flavor.
Slices on a plate

All in all, I would make this recipe again, with modifications. I would certainly use less than half the potatoes called for. The fact that they are sliced so thinly makes sense to sort of pile them on. I would use less onion and more rosemary and definitely keep the Gorgonzola! I do not believe it is worthwhile to put the book's version of the recipe here. The recipe, copied directly from the book can be found here, if you are interested. I am going to try the dough recipe found online for this "same" pizza, from either Martha Stewart or Smitten Kitchen. The recipes on those two sites look identical. The ingredient amounts for the dough are far different, as well as for the potatoes. The pizza I made turned out good, but the amount of potatoes was just too much.

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. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Open Houses Held Sunday

Tetiana at 1533 N. 20th St, Aberdeen
Tetiana Althoff, with ReMax Preferred Choice here in Aberdeen, hosted two Open Houses this past Sunday. Tetiana likes to host her open houses with a little wine and some light appetizers, to make the viewers' visits most especially pleasant. This week there were two open houses, and I helped her set up at the first, then take everything down and move to the next open house and set up again. 

Bits of things on sticks
The first Open house was held at 1533 N. 20th Street in Aberdeen, in Park Ridge Estates. This house was recently updated with new kitchen appliances and laminate floors. It has a full basement that is partially finished, leaving a good amount of room to create more rooms if needed. The house is in a development just slightly out of the immediate center of Aberdeen, about 1/2 mile south of Wylie Park. This Open House, held from 1:30 to 3:00 PM, was very well attended. Tetiana made little skewers of meat, cheese, olives or grapes. There were also skewers of cherry tomatoes with mozzarella cheese. Another plate held bell pepper wedges with a vegetable dip. She made some little black olive penguins to stand sentry on the plates. I made some Chocolate Chip Cookies, with the addition of Heath English Toffee Chips. 
Crudites and dip, with penguins on guard

The second Open House, held from 4:00 to 5:30 PM, was for a property that is perfect for anyone who wants to be "in the country" yet still very closely accessible to town. The back yard looks out to acres and acres of fields with bales of hay, while off the front of the house is a relatively busy road, leading into Aberdeen in about 10 minutes. The house at 110 NW 130th Street, Aberdeen is not in a cookie-cutter development and the setting is lovely and peacefully serene. It has 4 bedrooms and 2.5 baths. Unfortunately, either due to the time of day, or the less than immediately in-town location, no one showed up for this open house. Tetiana and I spent the time in the kitchen, which has granite counters and lots of cabinet space (pictured below). A most pleasant place to spend the time, though we wished someone would have found their way to view this lovely home.

Kitchen at 110 NW 130th St Aberdeen

My only contribution to these open houses this time was to make cookies. I was feeling a bit under the weather, as was Tetiana. I went for something simple, yet loved by most: Chocolate Chip Cookies. I got the idea to add in half Heath "English Toffee Bits" along with chocolate chips. I made a large batch of cookies, so (hopefully) there would be plenty for the open house viewers and some left to eat at home. I made the recipe larger for this purpose and got about 85 cookies out of it. These cookies turned out really wonderfully flavored and delightfully chewy; a winning combination in my book, for sure. This is the recipe:

Chocolate and Heath Chip Cookies

makes about 85 smaller cookies

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
Chocolate & Heath Chip Cookies
3 large eggs
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups pecans, coarse-chopped
8 ounces chocolate chips 
8 ounces Heath "English Toffee Bits"

Preheat oven to 375 degrees (350 if using Convection Bake). Whisk together the first three (dry) ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Have the butter at room temperature. In a mixer bowl, cream the butter with the granulated and brown sugars until light. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until completely combined before adding the next. Add the vanilla. Pour the dry ingredients into the creamed ingredients and mix until just barely combined. Add the nuts and chips and finish mixing.

Drop the dough onto ungreased cookie sheets using a spoon or a cookie scoop, keeping the cookies at least 2-inches apart. Bake the cookies for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden and set. Allow them to rest for one minute on the cookie sheet before removing to a rack to cool. 

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. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Great Recipe with Banana Peppers

The first time I tasted this relish, I was just entranced, enchanted, excited and exuberant. Maybe enough alliteration? Still, this relish is just one of the best condiments. It is more versatile than almost anything I have tried. What is it? It is a mustard relish with banana peppers. 
Hot Pepper Mustard Relish: good enough to eat by the spoonful!

I originally tasted a version of this relish at the house of my dearest friend, Chris. We have been friends from childhood on, though we are not in touch very much anymore. The time and distance do not dim the memories. I still consider her my best friend. Whenever Chris and I have been together as adults, I have always come away with more fantastic recipes to use. She loves to cook and bake as much as I. When I began looking into gluten-free baking, she was the first person I turned to for advice. She has been on a gluten free regimen for many years, out of choice. 

Last year's Relish
Getting back to this relish, it is known by many names. I don't know where it may have originated. I have seen similar recipes from "Amish Country" in Ohio, where I grew up. More currently, Michael Symon (also from Ohio, BTW), talks about a very similar mixture he calls "Sha Sha Sauce". The amounts of the ingredients may vary a little from one recipe to another, but it is the same basic thing...and it is GOOD!

This year, banana peppers have been very little in evidence. I have been waiting to see them at the Farmers' Market but have so far only seen a few. And now, we are dipping into the higher 30 degree range at night already this far north, and the Farmers' Market will soon be done for the year. Pumpkins and winter squash of all sorts have been out in force. And, some of the most gorgeous bell peppers I have ever seen were out last week. Maybe I will still have an opportunity to find more banana peppers, but for now, I did make one batch of this marvelously flavored relish using half banana peppers and half what appeared to be Anaheims. The Anahaim peppers were so beautiful and big. I had begun removing seeds and membranes before I remembered to get a photo, but you can see how large the Anaheim peppers were from the photo of them, halved, next to my Hammer Stahl Santoku knife with a 7.5-inch blade!

lighter color Banana Peppers left; larger, green Anaheim Peppers right

What is so fantastic about this relish?

You may be wondering why the raptures. Well, the relish is a little bit sweet, a little bit spicy (depending on the heat level of the particular peppers), nice and creamy and mustardy. Somehow, all those things combine into a most indescribably good flavor profile. Here are some of the many uses for this condiment:
  • spread on any sandwich; ham, BLT, leftover meatloaf; be creative
  • on tortillas for quesadillas
  • on toast to pair with eggs for breakfast
  • on buns for burgers or hot dogs
  • as a veggie dip
  • on crackers 
  • or just scoop out a spoonful, it is that good!
Until you've tasted it, this relish may not be top of mind. Once tasted, you won't forget it! I introduced it to my son Ken and his wonderful wife, Julia, last year when they came to visit. I sent them home with a jar. They asked for more. This year, just a week or so back, when again visiting, I sent them home with two jars. And that left me with none. I knew I would be making some very soon, so this was no problem. 

This year's batch
A few days ago, while I had the Finnish Rye Bread rising, I set about making this relish again. My recipe for Hot Pepper Mustard Relish was posted on my website last year. I had made a few changes to the recipe Chris gave me. Still, when looking at the recipe again, I was thinking that not all peppers are created equal. Sometimes banana peppers are long and sometimes not quite so long. How much would the right amount be in cups, I wondered.  This time, while chopping all the peppers, I first weighed them, then cleaned and chopped them and measured the amount. This way there is less guesswork involved. 

When beginning work on the recipe, I thought maybe there were more peppers this year than last year, so I altered the amounts of vinegar, sugar and mustard to reflect this. I used about twice the onion, since the onion was large and fresh from the market also. So, a little more of this, a little more of that, and I had a little bit different a recipe than I started with. None of this changed the excellent flavor. This combination of ingredients just cannot be beat.

Hot Pepper Mustard Relish II

makes 8 1/2 cups

1 3/4 pound banana peppers
2 1/4 cup white vinegar
2 1/4 cup yellow mustard
2 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon Kosher or canning salt
1 large onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
2 - 4 cloves garlic, minced or through a garlic press

4 cups chopped peppers left         |     Mixture cooking on stove right
Set a large canning pot at least halfway filled with water to boil. Set the clean canning jars and rings in the pot. Have lids handy.

Remove stem ends, seeds and membranes from the peppers, then chop into small pieces about 1/4 inch in size. There should be about 4 cups. Set aside.

In an 8-quart pot, combine the vinegar, mustard and salt. In a bowl whisk together the flour and sugar and stir into the pot. Add in the onion and garlic and stir well. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring until the mixture thickens. Add the chopped peppers and continue to cook, maintaining a strong simmer and stirring often over medium low to low heat for 20 minutes.

Drop the lid sections of the canning jars into the boiling water with the jars and rings to heat through, but do not leave them for too long. Pack the relish into the sterile jars, top with lids and screw on the rings. Set the sealed jars into a boiling water bath to cover. If the water in the canning pot does not cover the jars, add water until it does. Bring to a boil and time for 20 minutes. Remove and wait from that wonderful sound of the "pop" as lids seal.

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. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Another Book and Another Bread

gifted stack of bread books
For anyone reading my blogs in the past months, you will probably already know I have been on a bread baking mission. After being given 7 books on artisanal bread making/baking, I singled out one book from the stack, Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice", and have gone wild. I knew how to make bread. Once, long ago I even attempted sourdough. There was so much I didn't know about sourdough, how to use it, how to keep it tasting good instead of too sour, and best of all, making a starter from wild yeasts in the air. I have made around 9 or 10 different breads from that book, and have lots more to go before I am finished experimenting. 

A few weeks back, for whatever reason, I got out another of that original stack of bread books, Maggie Glezer's "Artisan Baking Across America". I had looked through it, noting that most if not all the recipes used a starter of some kind. As I am learning, while not all breads need a starter dough, when the ingredients are the bare, simplest ones, sometimes more flavor is desired. Flour, water, yeast and salt can only do so much. Fermenting of some kind gives flavor and nuance. Since I already have a starter "barm" in the fridge, I hoped it would be usable in the recipes from Maggie Glezer's book also. 

Yesterday, I got the book out again and took a look. She has recipes arranged for very simple baking, and more advanced, and then even more advanced. I wanted something in the heartier, heavier, whole grains category and found this recipe for "Dutch Regale's Finnish Rye Bread" under "advanced."  I had no idea what or who was Dutch Regale (it was a bakery in Houston, I believe, and it seems now is closed). I had made a version of Swedish Limpa Rye Bread in past, from a recipe given me by a neighbor back in 1982 or so. Her Swedish grandma would make it when she came to visit. This Finnish Rye bread had some similarities; mainly that it contained rye flour and molasses, and no caraway seeds. It also has the option for soaked flax seed to be added. This recipe calls for no white flour at all, outside of that used in making the firm starter. When they say "firm," they really mean firm! 
Dutch Regale's Finnish Rye Bread, just baked

I am sometimes impatient with bread. I realize this. In this book, it is stated that the starter needs to respond more quickly than mine was doing. If not, it needed to be refreshed a few more times before proceeding with the recipe. My starter in the fridge is nicely risen still, so I felt it would be enough. I made the firm starter yesterday, with the hope it would rise as stated, then make a second batch to set overnight, giving two turns of growth before proceeding. Well, it wasn't - quite - enough. I should have refreshed the starter once more at least, but I will not have time tomorrow to work with the bread. So - today it was to be.
Finnish Rye Bread, sliced

The starter was close to the risen size called for, I will give it that. The kneaded bread dough was more batter-like than any I have made outside of non-yeast breads. It truly needed the paddle attachment on my heavy-duty mixer, and not the dough hook. I had spent the morning yesterday grinding rye berries and wheat berries in the amounts stated for the recipe, making cracked rye, medium rye flour and whole wheat berries, ground medium. Last night I set the cracked rye and the flax to soak. This morning, come hell or high water, I was going to make this bread, by golly! I did, out of fear, add 1/4 teaspoon of instant yeast to boost the leavening. Today dawned chilly and rainy, making the likelihood of proper rising even less likely.

Because of the extremely soft consistency of the dough, I was very reluctant to set the dough to rise in a cloth lined bowl as stated in the recipe. I debated whether to just bake it in an enameled cast iron pot like with the No-Knead Breads Jim Lahey made so famous. I am sure it would have come out great. But I floured a flour-sack towel very heavily before setting it into a bread form and setting the dough in to rise. It did rise, almost more than I expected, considering the density of the dough and the chill of the weather. I turned it out onto parchment and the cloth stuck only in one tiny spot. The bread baked for almost 40 minutes and had reached an internal temp of 204 when I took it out of the oven. The loaf was flatter than I hoped, but still lovely and better than I expected from the slow starter and the chill in the air. 

The bread is wonderfully tasty, very dense and moist. The crust is thick and chewy. In effect, everything I hoped for in the taste department. Next time I will make sure the starter is working 100% before going on with the recipe, but for now, once again I am well pleased.

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, September 8, 2014

A Fun Blog and Savory Sunday Dinner

First off, I absolutely must advise anyone who enjoys puns to check out the blog called "A Good Forking" (www.agoodforking.com), written by "Paris Stilton." Her actual name is Emerald Bond, she is from Australia, and I saw her apartment hunting in Paris on an episode of House Hunters International. She mentioned starting a blog and gave the name of Paris Stilton, and that grabbed my attention right away. I looked her up and was immediately taken with her witty and pun-ny posts, which are also very pithy and informative.

I love a good pun, and my family has seemed to evolve into these plays with words, puns and groaners all through childhood and on into adulthood. When my sisters and I get together it is just one round of hilarity after another with puns flying fast and furiously. When I married my first husband, a Guatemalan, his English and understanding of nuance was less than perfect. Every time I used a pun or played with a word, it fell absolutely flat. It was so dispiriting. I had to learn to skip the innuendo, the puns and learn to speak very precisely and literally. And I did, but oh, how I missed that fun with words. 

My ex and I, far right, in 1968
As a matter of fact, on learning Spanish and living in Guatemala for a few years, I was able to not only understand Spanish puns, but make some of them myself. I was (I believe justifiably) proud of myself. My husband never could pick up on the puns in English, even after 18 years. So imagine the thrill when I met my current husband almost 25 years ago and I started to warn him that around my family he would be hearing a lot of plays on works and puns and he said, "Oh, so you all 'Pun-ish' each other?" Ahhhhh. He SO got it. And what a relief to go back to my puns and know they would be understood.

So, "Paris Stilton" really caught my attention. She writes about different places she has eaten and what they were served, what the presentation was like and the flavors. She is living in Paris, so most posts are from there, though there are some from London and Australia. Her photography of the varying foods is just superb, so you sit reading with drool just dripping down your chin. In the main, she really enjoys her food (and wine and drinks) and writes most favorably. In case you are curious if she ever gets a bad dish or a lousy place to eat, she has a category called "What the Fork?" to cover those. There are only 3, at this time. I am getting nothing by writing about and recommending her blog, except a real love of all she represents. She doesn't know me from Adam.

And Dinner!

On another topic, dinner last evening was just magnificent, in a very homey way. I had gotten a boneless pork shoulder roast when shopping last and it was in the freezer. I wanted to braise it in my Guatemalan Green Sauce, also frozen. It just didn't occur to me to get them out earlier, and I got both things from the freezer at noon yesterday. I unwrapped the roast and set it in my enameled cast iron pot. I set the unwrapped frozen green sauce beside it in the pot. The lid was slightly askew as neither item was remotely malleable enough to push down into the pot. I set the oven for 275 degrees and set the pot with lid slightly askew so that it would (hopefully) fall properly onto the pot once the foods started to melt.

Pork Shoulder in Green Sauce with Cheesy Chive Polenta
I have had very good results with frozen roasts so far. Either in the oven in that heavy enameled cast iron pot or in the slow cooker. So it went yesterday. I checked the pot once at about 1:30, when I began to smell the food cooking, and added in some salt, bay leaves and a little oregano. I covered it and replaced it in the oven until 4:45 PM, when I got it out. The roast was not, quite, falling-apart tender, but very close. It was certainly cooked through, and I cut away the little elastic mesh around the meat and sliced it. The meat was wonderful and more moist than if the roast had cooked longer. I thickened the green sauce with some masa harina and it was good to go. 

As for an accompaniment, I really wanted to make polenta. I love polenta, though my husband is definitely not wild about it. When my kids were visiting a couple of weeks back, I made a beef roast in green sauce and had a tube of polenta in the freezer that I needed to use. I knew my husband didn't care for polenta, but assumed my kids would, as they are vvery adventurous eaters. I did make some rice to go with the meal, just in case. As it turned out, my son also said he didn't care for polenta, and served himself rice. For his second helping, he wanted to taste it with polenta. And shock! He loved it, and said it tasted better with the meal than the rice. This was no surprise to me, but I was very pleased. So last evening I decided to make polenta from scratch. It was equally great, if not even better with the green sauce (Salsa Verde).

Pork Shoulder in Green Sauce

serves 6 to 8
1 (4-pound, approximately) boneless pork shoulder roast
2 1/2 to 3 cups Green Sauce / Salsa Verde 
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 - 3 bay leaves

2/3 cup water
1/2 cup masa harina (tortilla flour)

If your roast is frozen, set the frozen roast in a large heavy duty pot or slow cooker at least 5 hours before planned serving time. Add the green sauce, salt, oregano and bay leaves, cover and cook in a very low 275 degree oven or on low in a slow cooker for a longer period. Once roast is cooked through, slice and set aside. Mix together the water and masa harina flour and add to the green sauce and bring to boil to thicken the sauce slightly. Serve the pork and sauce over rice or polenta.

Cheesy Chive Polenta

serves 2 - 4

3 cups water
2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup cornmeal
3 - 4 tablespoons minced chives
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup "3-Cheese Italian Blend" shredded cheese

Bring the water and salt to boil in a medium saucepan. Once boiling, with whisk in one hand and dry cornmeal in the other, slowly pour in the cornmeal while whisking briskly until all the cornmeal is incorporated. Remove the pan from the heat. Continue stirring with the whisk or a wooden spoon until the mixture thickens considerably, 3 to 5 minutes. Add in the butter and cheese until melted, then add the chives and stir well. Serve immediately.

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.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

A New Fruit in my Lexicon

a small bowl of Aronia Berries
My friend Deb called me yesterday asking if I would be interested in having some aronia berries. I was unsure exactly what she was even saying, as I had never heard this word before. I asked her to spell the word: A-R-O-N-I-A. Okay, still didn't know what she was talking about, so I typed that into my browser and checked out what Wikipedia had to say. I have heard disparaging remarks about the veracity of Wikipedia information, but I have found that in general it gets you started with a good groundwork from which to build a knowledge base.

Aronia berries can come in red, purple or black varieties, though the ones I was given are definitely on the blackish side. The berries are sometimes called choke berries but this is confusing because there are also fruits called choke cherries, a completely different plant. The word "choke" preceding these berry names is not just given for nothing! Choke cherries and these Aronia / choke berries are highly astringent. Of course, anything really astringent, puckery-tart like these fruits also generally means they are really good for you. They do not cause you to choke, but tart, oh yes they are!

Berries and Fall foliage: http://www.paghat.com/berries1.html
If you are a red wine drinker and are familiar with the tannins in some high end red wines that must age for 20 years before they are drinkable - tannins are what give the wines their ability to age, and what makes the wines undrinkable when young. Tannins also are in large part the reason red wine (in moderation) is so good for health. Aronia berry skins are also high in tannins, and that dry, puckering mouthfeel is what you get biting into an aronia berry. The inner fruit is not terribly sweet nor flavorful.

Aronia melanocarpa is one of the scientific names given to the aronia berry, but there is some confusion here. Suffice to say that they are also called Photinia melanocarpa and it gets confusing from there. The fruit of course is high in antioxidants; in fact higher than blueberries and cranberries. There are studies being done on all the health benefits, and these berries are being called yet another "super-fruit", with claims they may help prevent cancer, diabetes, help with macular degeneration, alzheimer's and a host of other ailments and illnesses. These bushes can grow wild, and actually have not been cultivated on a grand scale in the US. What is being done with them has been leaning toward juices, and blends with other fruits, blueberry or apple being the most common. There is some research being done on adding them to grapes for wine, as the skins are so deep purple and the fruit itself lends well to this application. Aronia wine recipes are all around the internet.
Closeup of Aronia berries or Black Chokeberries

Size of the berries in my hand
Aronia berries have been around for a very long time. Native Americans used them very long ago, whether dried and reconstituted or ground into powder. The bushes are extremely forgiving of soil and climate and they grow even up to Zone 3 with a cold factor of up to -40 degrees F. The fruits can be dried or frozen for later use. The bushes can vary in size, depending on what variety is planted. Some newer hybrid varieties can be dwarf. Normally the bushes will grow to 6 to 8 feet tall, with a spreading habit. In spring the bush is covered in little white flowers. In Fall the foliage turns a brilliant yellow/orange/red. The berries are roughly the size of blueberries, with some tinier and some a little larger. On average they are about 3/8-inch in diameter. The skins of aronia berries are tougher than blueberry skins. The inside fruit is a bright purplish red, with small seeds that are not particularly noticeable when eating.  
Fruit cut across (left) and vertically (right)

I have yet to actually do anything with these berries, although I am preparing ideas. I looked up recipes last evening and most say the berries are more tolerable once they've been frozen, or left to go through a couple of frosts before picking. Others say they are better if cooked. Or frozen, then cooked. I am hoping to make a little syrup and a little jam or preserves. In all, I have 3 pounds of berries to work with. More info on recipes will be forthcoming once I have worked with them. For now I have washed them and set them out on trays to freeze. Once solid, I will pack them into appropriate amounts in freezer zip-top bags. Freezing them on the trays will allow the individual berries to be separated out for use when that time comes.

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.