Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Winter's Treat

The dearth of life outside my window and the shallow flood of light that hits the city streets all aides and abets my seasonal disorder – no fresh foods. Though like a squirrel I have secured away enough of summer’s bounty to keep me from starving. Okay, starving might be a bit of an exaggeration because the southern hemisphere is shipping in plenty of flavorless products.

I have been using the tomatoes I collected in stews; corn has found its way in rice pilafs and the various pickles I put up has been giving my salads a crunchy punch. Then there are the seasoned salts and sugars I made last year that are proving to be daily hits of pleasure. I have lavender salt, lemon verbena salt and rosemary salt that are adding a depth of flavor I would otherwise be deprived of this time of year.

Now, I readily admit to not really having a sweet tooth but during the winter I must confess I crave sweet, and probably consume my annual intact during the cold months. And this year, I have a fun collection of sugars: rose, lilac, orange blossom, lemon verbena and husk tomato. I have added these sugars to cakes, bread puddings and cookies giving my sugar need an intensity that turns those winter blues a tad more vibrant.

White Chocolate and Macadamia Nut Cookies – yields approx 36
6 ounces unsalted butter – at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 whole eggs
2-teaspoons vanilla extract
1-cup all purpose flour
1-cup pastry flour
2-teaspoons baking powder
1/4-teaspoon salt
8 ounces white chocolate – shaved
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts

In a standing mixer or using a hand-held beater whip the butter and sugar together until it is pale and fluffy. Then beat in the eggs one at a time, incorporating the egg before adding the next one. Mix in the vanilla.

Sift the flours, baking powder and salt together. Mix the sifted flour mixture into the butter to just combine. Then mix the white chocolate and macadamia nuts. Refrigerate the dough for an hour.

Pre heat the oven to 400 degrees.

On a parchment lined baking tray place a heaping teaspoon worth of the dough keeping at least two inches between the cookies. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the cookies to a cooling rack, and allow them to cool completely.

**If, like me, you have put up fragrant sugars replace the sugars in the recipe with one.**

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Curry Leaf

So frequently you set a goal and one the way of the achieving that target you discover the unexpected. And, so it was with my recent journey to get a greater understanding of the peppercorn. I fell in love with the curry leaf. It is a small tree indigenous to India that produces an aromatic leaf that has a reminiscent fragrance of India’s iconic spice blend. Though it is far more ethereal with a bit of a camphor head. I did not expect to find this herb in almost every dish I eat. I was more anticipating the kefir lime leaf to be the bay leaf of the southern portion of sub-continent, but that citrusy note was conspicuously missing.

I have had used the curry leaf back here at home though it is always so judiciously applied showing up in a scant amount of my recipes. Things will be different from here on in…of course I will throw them into curries but also lamb stews, rubs for chicken or in grits. That’s right based upon a semolina porridge I had for breakfast I am now making this most American gruel spiked with some curry leaves.

I prefer to buy the curry leaf fresh, and then freeze them. I use them straight from the freezer though I will admit that freezing will definitely compromise a bit of its pungency, so I may have to add few extra leaves into whatever I am making.

Savory Grits – yields 4 servings
3 cups water
1 small onion – thinly sliced
1 Thai green chili – thinly sliced
6 to 8 curry leaves
1-teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2-teaspoon salt
1 cup white grits

In a 1-1/2 quart saucepan add the water, onion, chili, curry leaves, mustard seeds and salt and bring them to a full boil. Then rain in the grits stirring as you add the grits – this is to prevent the grits from clumping up. Lower the heat to a simmer, and stir the grits mixture for 5 minutes. Then place a lid on the saucepan and cook for 15 minutes.

Correct seasoning, and serve warm.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A craving......

The past month has left my palate with decided new shadings. In part of it is definitely keeping the memory and momentum of a month long journey alive, but the other is purely artistic. I subsisted on a basically vegetarian diet while I was away, and I am still craving lentils, chickpeas, and other well-seasoned vegetables. Along the beach and at roadside stalls I kept seeing a chickpea salad that was served warm in newspaper cones.

Well, I thought some of these vendors were a bit sketchy did manage to order the dish at a few restaurants I found myself at. It was highly flavored with a garma marsala mix with the sweetness of carrots. So, for now, hummus has been put to the back of the list of chickpea go-to’s.

Chickpea Marsala – yields 6 servings

3 tablespoons canola oil
1 medium red onion – sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves – crushed to a paste
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 teaspoons garam marsala ( see below)
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 small carrot – peeled and grated
4 scallions – washed and diced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

Heat an 8-inch sauté pan over a medium heat, and add the oil and onion. Cook the onion until it is limp, and a light golden brown. Mix in the ginger, garlic and garam marsala, and cook for a few minutes moving the onion mixture constantly. Mix in the chickpeas, carrots and scallions, and cook to warm through. Remove from the heat and add the salt, pepper, limejuice and cilantro. Serve warm or cold.

Garam Marsala

2 cinnamon sticks
1/2 teaspoon whole clove
1/2 teaspoon fennel seed
1 tablespoon whole black pepper
8 whole cardamom

In a spice grinder place all the ingredients, and process to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Just as the earth is freezing deeper, and the chill in my bones is penetrating as far there are a few states in the country that is not bundled up and shivering. The southern portion of the country frosts and headlines scream of the global warming is now supplying us with an abundance citrus fruits. Lemons, limes and grapefruit might be the ubiquitous attention grabbers but there are many other possibilities as well. Myer lemons have a low acidity and offer a lemony-orange taste. Buddha’s hand is a variety that has no juicing qualities but zests a grapefruity-lemon note into a dish. There are key lime, kefir lime, sweet lime all waiting to be juiced into something…please. Of course, one cannot overlook the blood orange. Offered to us during the frigid days of winter this bastion of color delivers a sour orange taste that enlivens any dish – though it seems naturally paired to fennel.

So, forget that oranges are to juices; grapefruits need a sprinkle of sugar or limes are relegated to Margaritas the winter doldrums requires extreme measures.

Grapefruit and Kiwi Salsa - yields approx. 4 cups

1Grapefruit - juiced
1 small Red Onion - diced
2” finger of Ginger - peeled and finely diced
4 Kiwi fruit - under ripe, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 small Papaya - peeled and cut into small cubes
1 Lime - juiced
1/4 cup Raspberry Vinegar
4 Spring Onions - diced
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons of dry Mustard
Salt and white pepper to taste

Set the red onion in the lime and grapefruit juices for 15 minutes along with the ginger. Gently combine all the ingredients together, and let sit a half hour before serving.

Meyer Lemon and Lavender Cello

12 Meyer lemons (about 3 pounds)
1/2 pound kumquats

1/8 teaspoon lavender – slightly bruised
1.75 ml pure grain alcohol
4 cups sugar
2 liters bottled water

Wash the lemons and kumquats under hot water. Carefully remove the zest from the Meyer lemons. You do not want there to be too much pith (the white pulp) for it will cast a bitter flavor into the cello. In a 3 liter jar add the lemon zest, the kumquats, lavender and alcohol. Cover with a tight fitting lid. Let the mixture sit for 10 days in a cool dark spot.

After 10 days strain the alcohol through a fine mesh strainer lined with a clean coffee filter.

In a 4-quart saucepan bring the sugar and water to the boil, and let it boil for five minutes. Remove from the heat allow the sugar solution to cool completely.

Combine the alcohol and sugar solution together, and store in clean glass jars. Let it cure a few days before serving. (You can make traditional lemon cello by removing the kumquat and lavender for the recipe).

Friday, January 4, 2008

First Dish

So, almost a month has passed since I sat at my desk to consider the day’s ramblings. It seems in that time my mind, spirit and palate has been over stimulated and is even more informed. My sojourn through the southern third of the sub-continent filled every aspect of my being. The religious tolerance that exists there gave me pause and I appreciate even more anyone’s sense of spiritual belief. The colors of the saris, chalks to draw iconographic images and the rich, lushness of land itself is still brilliantly radiating in my third eye.

As a chef, I am totally re-vitalized and curious to employ many of the ideas I learned, flavors tried and techniques observed. Yes, the best information I walked away with the knowledge of dosa making (a very thin pancake) which was one of the goals I had for this journey. I am an oddity in so far as I am one the few people who travels to India and does not sit in an ashram, take a yoga class or visit a guru for greater understanding. No, it was getting a recipe for sambar (a thin lentil dish), marsala formulation and a biriyani that sent me into greater bliss.

For the truth of the matter one can be a vegetarian Hindu; mutton consuming Muslim, or beef eating Christian every table welcomes the stranger and respects who the are. We here in the west should demonstrate a fraction of this open-mindedness and inclusion has part of our greeting the New Year.

Pineapple and Cashew Biriyani – yields approx. 6
3-tablespoons butter
1-tablespoon canola oil
2 onions – thinly sliced
2-teaspoons fennel seed
4 whole cloves
3 whole cardamom
1/2-teaspoon fenugreek
1/8-teaspoon mace
1/4-cup golden raisins
1/2-cup cashews
3-cups cooked long grain rice
1-cup diced pineapple
1/4-teaspoon rose water
1/4-cup chopped mint
1/4-cup chopped cilantro
pinch of saffron
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a 4-quart saucepan melt the butter and oil together over a medium heat. Add the onions, and allow the onions to slowly cook and caramelize. Lowering the heat if necessary to prevent them from burning. Then add in the fennel seed, cloves, cardamom, fenugreek, mace and black pepper. Cook the spices for a few minutes, stirring constantly. Once the spices throw off a fragrant nose add the golden raisins and cashews and stir to combine. Remove the pan from the heat, and mix in the pre-cooked rice, pineapple, rose water, mint, cilantro, saffron and salt to taste.

Wrap the lid to the pan with a damp kitchen towel and cover the pan. Return the pan to a low flame, and cook for 15 t0 20 in order to heat through. Remove from the heat and allow it sit for 5 minutes before serving.