Friday, January 19, 2018

Black Beans on the Menu

First of all, I truly cannot believe that in all these 5½ years since I have been blogging and setting recipes on my website, I have never once thought to write about my black beans!


I have always liked beans. I grew up on pork & beans of course, and my parents often made Bean Soup using a leftover ham bone. But it wasn't until I got married and went to live in Guatemala that I encountered Black Beans for the first time. That first time, when I saw them on the table I had absolutely no idea what they were. This was mainly because they were served pureed. There was no form to identify it as beans. When I tasted them, I loved them, though they tasted like no beans I had ever tried before. Pork & Beans are very sweet. Mom & Dad's Bean Soup was savory, but tasted of ham and other vegetables. These black beans had no sweetness, no ham flavor.

As I lived in Guatemala for 12 years, I learned so much about Guatemalan foods, and enjoyed most everything. I embraced learning to cook everything I could. I jumped in with both feet and kept myself firmly entrenched there and to this day, I keep going back to some of these favorite foods. Beans have stayed at the top of the list, mainly as they are easy to find now. Cooking them and preparing them might take a while, but then I have beans made and ready to reheat for a few days. If you leave them "parados," or whole, they really don't take much preparation. To strain them or puree them, all you need is a blender, or at least a food mill. And best of all, my current husband has also come to like them, most particularly if they are made "volteados."
Parados or Cooked - Colados or Strained - Volteados or Turned
Parados or Cooked - Colados or Strained - Volteados or Turned

"Volteados," you ask?

Okay, so there are three main ways you might find black beans in Guatemala:
  • Parados, or cooked and left whole
  • Colados, or pureed or strained
  • Volteados, literally translated as "turned over," or "flipped" 
Pureeing cooked beans is a simple matter. I generally cook my beans without salt or any other flavors except for apasote / epazote (it was called "apazote" in Guatemala, but here in the US, I find it called "epazote"), an herb used when cooking beans in Guatemala (and Mexico, I presume) because it is supposed to help with that little problem when one eats beans, parodied in the little ditty that begins, "Beans, beans, they're good for your heart . . ." I have no idea if the use of epazote does help with that affliction or not, but I found that I love the flavor epazote gives to the beans, so while I no longer find it fresh in the market (or in the backyard - it is a weed!), I can buy it dried, and happily, it is one of those herbs that retains its flavor when dried.  Here are two photos from online that show best how to identify it. Believe me, once you smell it, there is no doubting you got the right thing, and this helps eliminate some lookalike herbs that do not have this scent. It is pungent, herbal, resinous. It is not unpleasant, but only strong.
Epazote herb
Epazote herb
Once my beans are cooked through, I saute onion and garlic in a large skillet until deep golden and caramelized. I add these to the beans, along with salt, and that is all it takes, if you are eating them whole. If there is too much liquid in the pot, I cook the liquid out, slowly, but other than that, the beans are done.

If I prefer to make them pureed, or colados (literally, "strained" as they used a food mill for this task, when I lived in Guatemala), I then put them into the blender and puree them smooth. And only then can they be made properly into "Volteados."

How to make Frijoles Volteados

Once you have pureed your cooked, flavored beans, you can begin making them into Volteados. In the photo below, I took photos at 5-minute intervals. This is accurate only if your beans are not too runny, or your heat too low during the process. 

The whole process is one of evaporation. If there is a lot of liquid with the beans when they are pureed, then it will take a lot longer to make Volteados. If you plan to make Volteados, it is best to allow the whole beans to cook down and evaporate some of their liquid. The reasoning is simple: while they are whole, the liquid can boil down without much hands-on attention. Once they are pureed, they will need to be stirred vigorously for the full time it takes to evaporate out the liquid. If you stop stirring, you run the risk of burning the beans, and all it takes is one bit of inattention to turn a heavenly dish into an inedible dish.

How to Make Frijoles Volteados
Making Frijoles Volteados
To start the process, add oil (I use olive oil) to a large, heated skillet, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Then:
  1. Pour in the pureed beans.
  2. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon or spatula.
  3. Lower heat slightly if needed; the beans will boil and splatter, and they are HOT.
  4. Continue stirring. After a few minutes, you should be able to see the pan, when scraping through the beans with the wooden spoon, as in photo 2 above. 
  5. In another few minutes, the beans will have gotten very noticeably thicker and start to clean the skillet in spots, as in photo 3 in the sequence.
  6. Once the beans come together in a whole mass, as in photo 4 of the sequence, begin to tilt the pan one way and then the other, forming them into a smooth, somewhat crescent-like shape.
  7. Turn out onto a platter to serve, hot or warm.

Possibly, these are such a hit because they are further cooked down, evaporating liquids from them until the whole batch comes together into one, semi-solid, mass. It may not look very appealing at first glance, I understand. But once all the excess moisture is cooked out, the flavors are really concentrated, and they are just this side of heaven, in flavor. 

Black Beans
Black Beans
Black Beans

Basic Recipe
Makes a large pot of beans

1 pound black turtle beans
Epazote herb, fresh or dried, optional
1 tablespoon cooking oil or olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 - 4 cloves garlic, minced
2 to 3 teaspoons salt

Sort through the dry beans, preferably the night before, removing any debris or stones. Wash them well, then place in a bowl and cover with water by about 3 inches. Let set overnight. 

In the morning, drain the beans and place them into a large, heavy duty pot with tight-fitting lid. Cover with clean water by about 2 - 3 inches and set to boil. If you have access to epazote herb, place one or two sprigs in with the beans to cook. If you have only dried epazote herb, use about 1 to 2 teaspoons. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover with lid. Cook the beans for about 2 hours, or until they are very tender and beginning to fall apart.

Separately, heat a large skillet and add in the oil. Saute the onion and garlic slowly, stirring often, until deep golden brown. Pour this into the pot with the cooked beans and the salt, as desired. Stir well, then cook for about 10 minutes to meld flavors.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and 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. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin.


 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Reminiscing on Louisiana and File Powder

I am in the midst of planning my next newsletter. Since February marks both Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day, there is plenty of great food to cover.

But, one of the many wonderful dishes so justly famous in Louisiana is Gumbo. And, there are two types of Gumbo, namely Filé Gumbo and Okra Gumbo. I think we all know what okra is, and we fall into two camps: either we love it or hate it for its "sliminess." And those who love it will say it is not slimy at all, but it's all in the way it's prepared.

Powdered Sassafras or File Powder
Powdered Sassafras or File Powder
I am not in the "I Love Okra" camp, but I have eaten the Okra Gumbo, because I was on a mission. At any restaurant I tried in my 2 years in Louisiana, I tried their gumbo. It is amazing how many variations there are. From thick and stew-like to runny and soup-like. From okra thickened to Filé thickened. And that brings me to the reason for this blog. 

What is Filé Powder? 

File Powder is nothing more than powdered sassafras leaves. 

"Okay," you might say, skeptically, "what then is sassafras?" I will explain, taking information from many books and from online. I am not espousing its wholesale use, but simply explaining. The information is there to be found.

Sassafras, "Sassafras albidum," is a native American tree, found in most of the Eastern United States, from Michigan to Texas, and eastward. The trees are small and deciduous, with mitten-shaped green to yellow-green leaves with one or two "thumbs" to the mitten shape. The leaves are the part of the plant used for Filé Powder. These leaves are slightly downy and alternately placed along a stem. In autumn the leaves turn to shades of bright yellow or orange-gold, tinged red. The tree is also a host plant for the Spicebush Swallowtail Butterfly.

Shape of Sassafras Leaves
Shape of Sassafras Leaves
"The Choctaw Indians (Native Americans) of the American South were the first to use ground, dried sassafras leaves as a seasoning," according to Wikipedia. It was also an important medicinal plant to any Native Americans living within its range. Later, it was discovered that Sassafras contains safrole, which apparently causes liver damage in laboratory animals, and was banned. It was found that this substance is most highly concentrated in the bark and roots of the tree, far less so in the leaves. Safrole is common enough and also found in other spices such as nutmeg, star anise or black pepper, and generally only small amounts are used to sprinkle over File Gumbo.

Powdered young sassafras leaves are best used at the end of cooking, as the powder turns stringy if boiled. The word "filé," is likely taken from the French "filer," meaning stringy or ropy. It has a slight thickening property, much as the okra does, for Gumbo.

Most often used in Creole cooking, Filé Powder is a flavoring and thickening agent. Use it or not, as you choose. I think it makes Gumbo taste wonderful!


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and 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. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin.
 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

First Time Working with Lamb Shanks

I should make that plural and say '"First Times" Working with Lamb Shanks'. This dish turned out so good I made it twice in a couple of weeks in December. Prior to that I had never made lamb shanks before. The one big reason for this is that I had never been able to find lamb shanks in past, but recently our local Walmart store has been carrying them! Since this happy event coincided with all the delving into Middle Eastern cuisine of late, it was truly serendipitous.

The first time I made this recipe, it was after reading into all the new cookbooks my husband had gotten for me so I could learn about Middle Eastern flavors and cuisines, and then searching the internet for recipes using lamb shanks in particular. I wished I had a lovely tagine pot to use, but alas, that is still somewhere in the future, for me. I still hold out hopes. 😉 
 
Moroccan Style Lamb Shanks
Moroccan Style Lamb Shanks served with Freekah

As usual, after extensive reading, I start writing down the things that sounded good to me for a recipe. I have mentioned before that I am not a huge fan of cumin. I realize that it is used extensively in many cuisines, but if I can taste cumin as a predominant flavor, it is too much. For me, that ruins the dish completely. I do use cumin - even extensively. I just do not add it in larger amounts. So if someone uses a tablespoon of cumin in a dish - I don't care how large the servings - it is going to overwhelm. I trim back the amounts to what I can tolerate. In a similar manner, I have learned to use fractions of the amounts of hot chilies and hot spices, because my husband cannot tolerate them. My harissa mixture has all the flavors, but only a tiny fraction of cayenne. And so this is how I concoct a recipe; an eye out for things that appeal, or things that don't, as it should be.

Moroccan Style Lamb Shanks on the bone
Moroccan Style Lamb Shanks on the bone
Once I had all the ingredients written down as I wanted, I began to put together this wonderfully flavored dish using lamb shanks, and it came out so heavenly good that I made it a second time about 10 days later.  

I began with creating a wet spice mixture. I had made "Rose Harissa" a week or so prior to making this dish, and used some of that Harissa in my wet spices. Saffron is a true favorite of mine, and as my husband has no problem with saffron flavor, I do use it in some quantity. I had read in various places that pounding garlic, salt and saffron together is a good beginning for the wet spices that will go into this stew. 

The first two photos in the series below show the garlic, salt and saffron whole, then pounded together. In the third photo across the top row I have blended the whole spices into a powder and add these to the garlic mixture along with some oil and Rose Harissa, 4th photo across top. (If you have regular Harissa, simply adding some soaked rose petals and/or rose flower water, about 1 tsp per cup of Harissa, will give you "Rose Harissa"). This, in turn gets mixed together with a can of petite diced tomatoes, making the base sauce, 5th photo across top

Assembling Moroccan Style Lamb Shanks
Assembling Moroccan Style Lamb Shanks
In the second row of photos, the lamb shanks are first browned (photo 1), then onions are sauteed (photo 2), then combined in a heavy Dutch oven (photo 3), along with other flavorings (ginger, thyme, green chilies) in photo 4, then the spice mixture is poured over along with some stock. This part of assembly takes a little time, but once assembled, it can be put into a slow cooker or in a Dutch oven and baked very slowly for a couple of hours before you even have to think of it again.

I have added in dried fruits to cook for the last half hour. A guest had issues with the seeds in the figs (!) but aside from that, it is a lovely, well flavored dish, and the lamb positively falls from the bones, as is seen in the photo at the top of this page. The lamb shanks, though they do have a large bone, still feed at least two people easily. If you are very conservative in portion size, I would say you could feed 6. The first time I made these I served them with couscous. The second time I made them I served them with Freekah, which was also delicious. A side of rice or even potatoes would also go well, depending on your taste.

Moroccan Style Lamb Shanks

Serves 4
Moroccan Style Lamb Shanks off the bone
Moroccan Style Lamb Shanks off the bone


1 tablespoon olive oil
2 lamb shanks
2 onions, chopped
 
SAUCE:
8 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
Pinch saffron (or to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon Ceylon cinnamon
1 - 2 tablespoons Rose Harissa
1 can (14.5 ounces) petite diced tomatoes

OTHER:
1 (walnut sized) piece fresh ginger, minced
1 green chili pepper, more if desired
1 sprig fresh thyme
1½ - 2 cups chicken stock

FRUITS:
10 dried apricots, halved
10 dried figs, halved
10 Medjool dates, halved, pitted

Have ready a large oven safe pot with lid, preferably enameled cast iron. Heat oven to 225 or 250, whichever will maintain a low simmer. Or, if using a slow cooker, have it ready.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and brown the lamb shanks all over on medium high heat. Remove them to the pot (or slow cooker). Add the onions to the skillet and saute over medium or medium low, until golden. Pour the onions over top of the lamb shanks.

Meanwhile, place the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds into a spice grinder and grind to powder. With a mortar and pestle, smash to a paste the garlic, salt and saffron. Once done, add in the ground trio of spices along with the Ceylon cinnamon and paprika. Add in a teaspoon of olive oil if needed to make a paste. Stir in the Rose Harissa. Pour the petite diced tomatoes into a mixing bowl and now add the spice mixture to the tomatoes, stirring to combine. Pour all of this mixture over top of the lamb shanks and onions in the pot. Add in the minced ginger and thyme. The green chili can be left whole and just pierced with the tip of a knife, to give flavor but no heat. If you like the heat, chop the chili or chilies, with or without seeds to regulate the heat level. Pour chicken stock over all, until it reaches about ⅔ of the way up the sides of the lamb shanks. Bring the pot to a boil, then cover with tight fitting lid and set in oven. Allow to simmer slowly for at least 2 hours. If using a crock pot, allow at least 5 hours on low, or follow the settings on your slow cooker.

A half hour prior to serving, add in the dried fruits. Stir in, then cover and return to the oven for another 30 minutes. The meat should be falling off the bones. Serve with couscous, freekah, bulghur, rice or potatoes, as desired. 


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and 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. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin.
 

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Great Big Savory Pie to Try

Like many, I have been watching "The Great British Baking Show" (or "Bake Off" in Britain), and it has impacted me in a really big way. Ever since Season 1, watching them make savory "picnic loaves" piqued my interest. I had never heard of such a thing as a great big savory pie that is chilled and taken on picnics. I can't even remember when the last time was that I went on a picnic. And, I'm not British. 

One of the criteria for these "pies" or "picnic loaves" is that it hold together when sliced, so it's easy to pick up and bite into. Of course, it will be cold, or at least cool, on a picnic, so it's best to make ahead. Though, with temps hereabouts in the minus numbers, there will be no picnics outside soon! So instead, I tried this out yesterday to eat for dinner. 
Beef & Pork Pie in Hot Water Pastry
Beef & Pork Pie in Hot Water Pastry

Conceptually, it should be made ahead and eaten cooled, if not chilled. But after working on this pretty much all afternoon yesterday, it was our dinner, and it was hot, having been taken from the oven only half hour prior. Still, it held together quite well, considering it had no chance to cool. It looked pretty and appetizing, with the layers I created. 


And the Crust!

Now, Paul Hollywood used a Hot Water Pastry to make this sort of pie. And in all my cooking career of nearly 48 years, I had never heard of a hot water pastry, so I was terribly intrigued. I must have read over 25 recipes for this sort of pie. Most of them used a hot water pastry, because it is stronger and holds up better. It gets crisp on the bottom, which was another criteria for these kind of pies on that baking show, despite being filled with things that could make it soggy. In many of the recipes, people commented that the crust had no earthly reason for being other than holding the fillings together while it baked and was sliced, as it had no particular flavor. 


Beef & Pork Pie in Hot Water Pastry
Beef & Pork Pie in Hot Water Pastry
I don't know about that, or maybe my husband and I are just "crust lovers," but I found it a delightful addition to the whole outcome. My husband gave this pie a "Five-Thumbs-Up!" And I would agree. And there wasn't a scrap of crust left on either of our plates, I can tell you. Considering that in the show I watched called "Masterclass," Paul Hollywood made his Hot Water Pastry with the addition of butter, "just to make it taste a bit better," paraphrasing, I would say he meant it to be eaten. I wrote down the instructions as I watched the show, and made the recipe just as he did, and it turned out perfectly, both to work with and to bake. And I didn't take a single photo while making this crust. Possibly it was just my total absorbed focus on something so new. Possibly it was that my hands were mightily greasy while working with it. But, no photos resulted from this first attempt.

Hot Water Crust Pastry, a la Paul Hollywood

The recipe for the Hot Water Crust Pastry, taken straight from watching the TV show, consists of placing 150g lard and 200ml water into a saucepan and heating just to a simmer, when the lard will have melted. Granted, you do need a scale for this, though most measuring cups have milliliters marked on them. In a bowl, combine 450 grams of all-purpose flour and 100 grams of bread flour and rub in or cut in 75 grams of butter (⅓ cup). Once the lard and water are hot and melted, pour this into the flour mixture and mix with a spoon (it will be hot at first) until most of the flour has been mixed in, then use hands to bring it all together in a somewhat spongy feeling ball. 

This pastry does not lend itself to rolling out to any great size, so to line a pan, first divide out about ⅓ of the pastry and set aside, then use the rest to pat or roll into a disc and set into a very well greased (with lard) springform pan, working it up the sides until there is at least a ½-inch overhang all around the top rim of the pan. Press the dough to close any holes or tears. Fill the crust as soon as it's ready in the pan. This means have all your filling ingredients all ready! Once you've layered all the fillings in and patted it firmly down, roll out the remaining pastry into a disc slightly larger than the pan diameter. Carefully roll this over your rolling pin and unroll over the top of the pie. Press into place, then trim the edges, bottom crust and top together, right at the top edge of the pan. Then crimp with fingers or a fork. Cut a hole in the center of the top crust to release steam. Use any scraps to cut out leaf shapes for the top of the pie.


The "Tin"

In the show I watched, and on some others throughout this series, they used a pretty, fluted, oval mold of a type used in Victorian times. Paul used one when he made the Christmas Leftovers Pie on the show. I was fascinated by this tin, partly because it is so pretty and results in such a pretty and decorative pie. Partly, I suppose just because I love new things and am acquisitive. 😀


Fluted Game Pie Mold
Fluted Game Pie Mold
So I started hunting online to see if I could locate one, and wow, are they expensive. Meanwhile, when I decided to make my first attempt yesterday, all I had are springform pans. And, these work just fine. At first I thought of using my 8-inch pan, a true 8-inches in diameter. The more I looked at all the filling items I had going, the more I thought that a 9-inch would be far better, so 9-inch is what I went with. I was using 2 pounds of meat, plus vegetable layers, plus veggies added into the meat layers. The 9-inch pan turned out perfect for this particular size of pie. It can be made in a 10-inch springform pan as well, though it will be less tall, and possibly the cooking times would need adjustment.

Meanwhile, as I told my husband about the pretty, fluted Victorian style tin, called a "Fluted Game Pie Mold" or "Pate Mold," he said he would order one for me, if I sent him the links, so I happily passed on the links to him. 

There is another option out there, for a smooth sided version of this kind of oval mold, and there is also a mini version that holds six mini pies and is adjustable. I liked the mini version of that kind, just because it gave options for the size of pie made. 


Beef & Pork Pie in Hot Water Pastry

Serves 8 to 10
Beef & Pork Pie in Hot Water Pastry
Beef & Pork Pie in Hot Water Pastry

1 recipe (above) Hot Water Pastry Crust, fitted into a greased 9-inch springform pan
1 sweet potato (about 7.5 ounces/215 grams)
1 - 2 small white potatoes (total weight about 7.5 ounces / 215 grams)
4 teaspoons salt, divided
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced, divided
12 ounces ground pork (356 g)
5 ounces bacon, minced or ground (145 g)
2 stalks celery, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
1 pound ground beef (450 g)
1 medium carrot, shredded
1½ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
1 jar (12 ounces / 355 ml) whole roasted red peppers, drained
1.75 ounces / 50 grams fresh spinach leaves
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour, divided
1 egg +1 tablespoon water for egg wash

In a saucepan, place the sweet potato(es) and white potato(es) and cover with water to at least an inch above the tops of the potatoes. Bring to a boil, add in 2 teaspoons of the salt and lower to a simmer. Cook for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are easily pierced with a knife. Drain and set aside. Once cooled, peel or don't peel, as preferred, then slice across thinly. Set aside until needed.

Pour out the roasted red peppers into a colander and allow to drain thoroughly. Set aside until needed.

In a medium skillet, over medium low heat, fry the ground/minced bacon until nearly crisp. Strain out the bacon to paper toweling, leaving the drippings in the pan. Add in the onion and ½ teaspoon of the salt and fry until golden, then divide the onions evenly between two mixing bowls. 

Add the ground pork to the pan and fry, adding in ½ teaspoon of the salt, ½ the minced garlic, with the celery and sage. If there is too much liquid in the pan, use paper toweling to blot it out. When no pink remains to the meat, sprinkle with two teaspoons of the flour and mix until no white flour remains. Pour this mixture into one of the bowls with onion, add in the fried bacon and mix well. Cool completely.
Cooked potatoes - drained red peppers - pork mixture - beef mixture - pie in oven
Cooked potatoes - drained red peppers - pork mixture - beef mixture - pie in oven

Return the skillet to the heat and add in the ground beef, along with 1 teaspoon salt, the remaining garlic, carrot, and rosemary. Cook, breaking up well, until the meat loses its pink color, again blotting with paper toweling if there is liquid in the pan. Sprinkle on the remaining flour and stir in, then turn the meat out into the second mixing bowl with the remaining half of onion. Stir well. Cool completely.

Wash the spinach leaves, then place the wet leaves into the skillet and toss until wilted. Drain off any remaining water.

Preheat the oven to 345 or 350 degrees, or 320 on Convection, for more even browning. 

Place the ground beef mixture into the prepared crust, pressing well into the corners and making the meat a neat, level layer. Set the white potato slices over top, in a single layer. Over top, lay the red bell peppers, opening them flat. Next, layer in the ground pork mixture, again leveling the layer and pressing down to make the layers nicely compact. Over top place the sweet potato slices in a single layer, then set the spinach leaves over all. Press down neatly. Cover with the top crust, pressing into place against the lower pastry edge. Trim the top edges of pastry neatly with the rim of the pan, then crimp with fingers or a fork, keeping the edges inside the pan. Cut a ½-inch hole in the center of the top crust. Any remaining scraps of dough can be rolled out and cut into shapes to decorate the top of the crust.

Set the pan on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 70 to 75 minutes, and nicely golden. Remove from oven and increase oven temperature to 375 degrees, or 350 on Convection. Whisk together the egg and water for the egg wash. At this point, the pie should be strong enough to remove the springform rim. Unlatch and carefully remove and set aside.  Brush all the top and sides of the pastry with the egg wash. Place back into the oven for 15 to 20 minutes, removing once more after 10 minutes to apply a second coat of egg wash, then return to oven for the time remaining. 

Allow the pie to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing, or if time permits, cool completely. Refrigerate if you prefer to serve it chilled the following day.





My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and 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. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at AHOFpin.

Please Enjoy my January Newsletter

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A Harmony of Flavors January 2018 Newsletter
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Happy New Year 2018 from A Harmony of Flavors
Happy New Year 2018, Friend

The holidays are over. All the treats we allowed ourselves over the last couple of months have now been left behind. Many will choose to begin a new diet or food regimen. But, food, no matter how it is "slimmed down," can still be mightily tasty. My husband and I have been eating in a more healthy manner since last June, and between us, lost 100 pounds. All the foods I prepare are delicious as well as healthy, and in no way have we felt deprived. It is a lifestyle change we both chose, granted. But this takes attention to detail, reading labels in great detail, and avoiding most processed foods. It works.

We did splurge over these recently past holidays, and in doing so, a few of those pounds returned. And now, we will be back on track with our more healthy way of eating, that allows us to feel better in so many ways. Lots of vegetables are easy when you make a soup like my "Everything But the Kitchen Sink Vegetable Soup." Adding complex carbs (and more vegetables) is simple with my "Toor Dal with Tomatoes & Spinach." Be prepared to see lots more easy and healthier recipes on my blog this coming year.


Please check "A Harmony of Flavors" website and "A Harmony of Flavors" blog site, continually being updated with new recipes. There is a lot to choose from!
Happy New Year, 2018
wine pairing, food pairing, appetizer bites
Wine Tasting and Food Pairing

On December 20, 2017, I was again a part of a Wine Tasting and Food Pairing Event. This was another auction winner at one of the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen Fundraiser events, held at the lovely home of Jon and Rhonda Webb, and was very well attended. A couple of the appetizers I served were ones I had made in past, but three were brand new to these events. One that is not shown is Hoisin Pork with Blackberry Chutney; very simple to put together, with a little advance preparation.

Clockwise from top left:
  • Butternut Squash Falafel in Mini Pita with Pickled Turnip. My husband and I have become enamored by these little falafel, whether filling a larger pita bread, or in these little mini-pitas made just for this event. It was very gratifying to hear so many people, including the hostess, proclaim these their favorite appetizer. They pair excellently with Chardonnay, but also went well with the Pinot Noir.
  • Mock Wellington Bites. While slightly more work up front to make these tiny pouches, they can be frozen for up to three weeks prior to baking, making them fantastic for do-ahead prep work. They bake in just a few minutes and were another high favorite on everyone's list. These were excellent with any of the three Cabernet Sauvignon wines served.
  • Smoky Andouille & Corn Pouches. Again, I made little pouches instead of baking these into cups, as was the original idea. Using smoked paprika in the dough for the crust made these pouches an enticingly golden color. The Andouille, Pepperjack cheese and corn filling made a wonderful pairing with Malbec, Pinot Noir or Cabernet.
  • Spanakopita Cups. I have served these little bites at a lot of functions this past year. They are so easy to make, using pre-made fillo cups. Use a mini cookie scoop to make quick work of assembly and your oven will be hot before you finish filling them. These pair perfectly with a nice, crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
All the recipes I make for these events are geared towards making things in advance and frozen. This way, it takes little work on the day of the event, rarely more than a quick 10 or 12 minutes baking time per appetizer type.

Below is a button to connect with a really great Bonus Recipe for this month.
CLICK HERE for a Bonus Recipe
Happy New Year 2018
paella, Pot Stickers, Chicken Paprikash, Lamb Korma
Comfort Foods Around the World

I love trying out foods from around the world. Some have become complete favorites, calling me to make them again and again. Testing out new flavor combinations, new spices, and finding what works, these are favorite occupations. I hope to tempt some of my readers with these dishes that have become true comfort foods in my household.

Clockwise from top left:

Mixed Meat Paella. While best to make in a "paellera," or a shallow, wide pan used for making paella, this dish from Spain can be made in any shallow oven-proof vessel. As my husband will not eat seafood, I created this dish with meats to appease him, but other ingredients can be added or removed as desired. Typically made over an open fire, this version goes in the oven, for ease. It is a dish well worth trying, and about as comforting as it gets.

Chinese Dumplings, or Pot Stickers. While wrapping all these little dumplings is time consuming, and tricky until one gets the hang of it, these can be made while sitting down, and then they can be frozen until needed. For me, it is always comforting to know that there is something all ready in the freezer that can be made at a moment's notice. We made a complete meal of these, since they contain pork and vegetables. Delicious!

Chicken Paprikash. This was standard fare on the table as I grew up. The recipe came from my maternal grandmother, who was from Slovakia. I suspect that the recipe was re-created to fit the Depression era's frugality, but in our house, it was always met with joyous anticipation. Comfort food at its finest.

Lamb Korma. While I made this recipe with lamb, it can just as easily be made with beef stew meat. The sauce is creamy and delicious and I just love the flavors and spices in Indian foods. Heat levels are completely optional. Use chili peppers or not, as you choose. For us, this meal is as good as it gets!
Happy New Year 2018
banana bread, healthy recipe,
And, Banana Bread Without the Guilt
Someone asked me for a recipe once, for Banana Bread that would fit within the guidelines of their diet plan.

I have no idea what the guidelines are like for that diet plan, but I created this recipe that did fit within many guidelines for lower fat and sugar, and most importantly, calories. It is called Banana Bread Light. I felt this recipe was quite honestly delicious. It came out light and moist, and at 76 or 91 calories per slice (based on whether it is sliced into 10 or 12 slices), you can hardly eat an apple for those calories!

If you're looking for something to fill that sweet tooth, but with far less guilt, then give this banana bread a try.
curry leaf, murraya koenigii
Learn About Curry Leaf
Curry Leaf (Murraya koenigii) is an evergreen shrub that can grow quite large in its native Southwest Asian habitat. The leaves, which grow about 16 to 20 per single small stalk, are tender and mid-green in color. They are used extensively in Indian cooking, which is where I first heard about them. When added in at the beginning of a dish, to "crackle' in hot oil, they release a somewhat citrus-like scent and flavor. They are available online fresh, through that wonderful online "A" store, and I have had them delivered looking like they were picked that very morning. Place the package into a freezer zip-top bag and freeze them until needed. Simply pluck as many leaves from the stems as needed for a dish and return the package to the freezer. Do not be concerned that they turn blackish when frozen. The flavor is still vibrant.

Do not buy dried Curry Leaf, as drying leaches the leaves of all flavor. If you are fortunate enough to live in a more temperate area, you can order a plant online and grow it in your yard. But in whichever manner, do check out these leaves, as their flavor is amazing.


Try the flavor of Curry Leaves in recipes such as Toor Dal with Tomatoes & Spinach, Telangana Chicken, Fragrant Lemon Rice, or Goan Pork Vindaloo.
author, Chris Rawstern
Happy New Year 2018 to all my readers. I hope you will visit all my sites and try some new (or old) recipes, learn something new about an herb or spice or other subject, or maybe just daydream. However it is accomplished, I endeavor to provide articles of interest. Not everyone cooks these days, due to time constraints, though I did cook meals for my family back when I had 4 youngsters and worked 2 jobs, so I know it can be done. It requires some real attention to detail, to be sure. Many of my newer, more complex recipes have been created now that I am retired and have extra time on my hands, yet many are easy and quick.
Happy New Year 2018
Please forward this newsletter to any friends who may find my stories, articles and recipes of interest. Subscribe to this Newsletter by hitting the Subscribe Button below. Follow me on Facebook, check out my A Harmony of Flavors website, and A Harmony of Flavors blog. Find all my food (and lots of other) photos on Pinterest at AHOFpin.
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