Thursday, February 15, 2018

All You Need to Know about Sheet Gelatin

Very Soft Custard unsuitable for a large tart
Very Soft Custard, unsuitable for a large tart
In my last post, I had created some lovely 4-inch individual tarts filled with a soft custard. This custard was far softer than I had hoped, and would not have been usable for a larger tart. And this got me thinking about what filling I would use if making a larger tart.

I have a most excellent Chocolate Mocha Mousse recipe that could not be any more simple. No cooking involved and it takes only minutes. Granted, it uses unsweetened cocoa powder. White chocolate doesn't come in "cocoa powder" form, so how then would I accomplish it? Could there be an easy and simple method for white chocolate mousse? I read through a dozen or so "easy" white chocolate mousse recipes. My regular chocolate mousse uses gelatin, and it sets just nicely so that it is creamy in the mouth, and without the feel of a gelled substance. I wanted to accomplish this, and wanted to err on the side of caution in how much gelatin was used. It needed to be just enough to make it hold its shape when piped; nothing more.

One of the recipes I read used sheet gelatin. Which got me thinking.

Sheet Gelatin

I bought some sheet gelatin about a year ago, but never got around to trying it out. I do not make gelatin based desserts or gelled anything, very often. I had seen sheet gelatin used in TV programs. I had seen it called for in some few recipes. Due to all these programs, finding sheet gelatin is now far easier than in the past. But in all my years, I had never once seen it or tried it, so I did some research. 

Two Sheets of Gelatin
Two Sheets of Gelatin
Sheet gelatin comes in - well - sheets, or leaves. They are crisp and thin and just like with powdered gelatin, need to be "bloomed" (hydrated in cold liquid for about 10 minutes) before using. Once bloomed, they need to be dissolved in hot liquid before using, yet not boiled. The biggest difference is that using powdered gelatin, when blooming in liquid, this liquid must be taken into account along with the whole amount of liquid in the recipe. Using sheet gelatin, it must be bloomed in cold liquid also, but it is them removed from the cold liquid and added to the hot liquid to dissolve. Therefore, the cold soaking liquid gets tossed away and is not counted in with the whole recipe's liquid amount.

The biggest difference is that sheet gelatin comes in differing strengths, requiring more, or less, sheets to accomplish the same thing. The four strengths are Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum. Bronze has the least gelling power and platinum has the most gelling power, per sheet. However, you must really use the sheets by weight, to calculate the amount of any of the sheets to use in substitution for powdered gelatin. Some recipes will specifically tell you which strength to use, but many will not. If there is no suggestion, then opt for Silver, which is possibly the most commonly used. 

There are also guidelines to each category's bloom strength and weight per sheet. 
  • Bronze: 125 - 135  /  3.3 grams by weight
  • Silver: 160  /  2.5 grams by weight
  • Gold: 190 - 220  /  2.0 grams by weight
  • Platinum: 235 - 265  /  1.7 grams by weight

Granted, this seems useless information, without anything to compare it with. Then I read somewhere that a packet (about 2½ teaspoon worth) of Knox gelatin weighs 7 grams. And then I got it. I got how I could compare what a particular sheet or sheets would do in comparison. Now this information made sense. One envelope of powdered gelatin will softly set 3 cups of liquid, medium set 2 cups of liquid or very firmly set 1 cup of liquid. One Platinum sheet, according to my package will set ½ cup liquid. Use more, or less, to accomplish your goal.

How Can I Substitute Powdered Gelatin with Sheet Gelatin?

Ultimately, it doesn't matter which grade of gelatin sheet you acquire, all that is needed is an adjustment in how many sheets to use, by weight. If a recipe calls for one whole packet of powdered gelatin (which is 7 grams total), then I can substitute:
  • 2¼ sheets Bronze to equal 7.4 grams
  • sheets Silver to equal 6.9 grams
  • 3½ sheets Gold to equal 7 grams
  • 4 sheets Platinum to equal 6.8 grams

At least, this is my own, personal calculation by gram weight. It is not 100% accurate, but should be quite close. Err on the higher side for more firm setting, or lower side for softer setting.
White Chocolate Mousse, soft set
White Chocolate Mousse, soft set
When calculating the amount of gelatin for my white chocolate mousse, knowing I wanted the mousse to set and hold its shape, once piped into little shells, yet not have the completely firm "set" and mouthfeel of "Jello," I calculated on the low side. I wanted to give the whipped cream element a boost, so to speak, not to make it unmovable. My white chocolate mousse recipe uses approximately 1½ cups liquid, and uses 1¼ teaspoon powdered gelatin, or 3.5 grams. I would need to approximate that using the sheets. Considering that my Platinum sheet package states that each sheet will set ½ cup of liquid, I would look for a very soft set for a little over 3 times that much liquid and use half the 3+ sheets, going for lower setting power. I used 2 sheets (total 3.4 grams).

Why Use Gelatin Sheets at All?

Gelatin sheets have been mainly used in the domain of the professional kitchen. Until more recently, with all the wonderful TV programs out there, with their attendant cookbooks, and calling for sheet gelatin, it has become much more widely available. The main difference between sheet gelatin and gelatin powder is that the sheets have far less of a flavor and gelatin made with them comes out far more clear. If your goal is perfect clarity in your gelled substance, without any off flavor interfering, then sheets are what you want. Powdered gelatin has a definite flavor and does not yield such a perfectly clear outcome. 

If what you want to set is opaque and highly flavored, then it makes little difference which type of gelatin is used.

What is Gelatin?

One Packet of Powdered Gelatin
One Packet of Powdered Gelatin in a tablespoon measure
Gelatin comes from collagen, found in animals. Most commonly, gelatin is extracted from pig skin, though bovine gelatin (from skin or hooves) is also widely available. There is no true "gelatin" other than what comes from animals, although there are good vegan gelling agents, such as agar. This means that anything made with gelatin is unsuitable for vegetarians or vegans. Knowing dietary restrictions will also determine the type of gelatin to be used, whether porcine or bovine.  

As mentioned above, gelatin must be bloomed before using. This means it needs to be soaked in a cold liquid to hydrate, or "bloom" and then dissolved and melted into a hot liquid. Under no circumstances should the hot mixture be boiled once the gelatin has been added, as this can result in unreliable setting ability.

Gelatin Inhibitors

Knowing about how to use gelatin does not mean it is going to work like magic on any liquid. There are various things that can cause the gelling action to fail.

Many fresh fruits have an enzyme that inhibits gelatin's ability to set. These fresh fruits include pineapple, papaya, kiwi, peach, mango, guava and fig. Once cooked though, these fruits cause no more problems, as you may have seen if you've ever been exposed to Jello made with a can of fruit cocktail in it. Other things can also inhibit gelatin from setting: 
  • too high a temperature and prolonged heating (as noted previously), 
  • too high an alcohol concentration (above 40%), 
  • too high an acid content to the liquids to set, or 
  • too high a salt content.

Gelatin will set if the liquid is within a pH range of 4 to 10 (7 is neutral pH). Citrus is acidic and if the citrus content is too high, your gelatin will not set. The same goes with too alkaline a liquid.

One last thing of importance is that gelatin needs to be chilled to set completely, preferably 6 to 12 hours or more at below 59 degrees F.

Gelatin Strengtheners

Sugar and cream help gelatin to firm up. Sugar pulls liquid out of the gelatin and cream is thicker on its own, aiding the thickening process. There is also a commercial setting promoter called transglutamase.

I hope this article is not too confusing, and that it may help you tread these strange waters with more ease and confidence. My White Chocolate Mousse recipe, coming soon, will be using gelatin sheets, so this article may help prepare for it. 

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.

Monday, February 12, 2018

A Beautiful and Delicious Valentine Treat

Okay, so I made these way prior to Valentine's Day, in order to be able to put the recipe here. But these were truly delightful, no matter when. And I had to make something beautiful to put on the pretty heart shaped plates I had just bought. And so these Cherry Custard Tarts were born.

Cherry Custard Tarts
Cherry Custard Tarts

I had also bought individual tart pans with removable bottoms, and wanted to use those, for ease of removal from the pans. As it happens, while it might seem like a lot of work, it isn't as bad as all that, and if you are making these for your beloved, it is worth a little bit of effort. 

Cherry Custard Tarts
Cherry Custard Tarts
My one and only complaint is that the custard wasn't quite as firm as I had hoped, but it was certainly firm enough to do what it needed to do - stay inside the shell. All the flavors were just perfect. Sweet, but not too sweet. The Kirsch in the custard and in the strained preserves gave just that hint of something more, without jumping out and screaming, "Taste me!" And they were pretty. They were so very pretty setting on the heart shaped plates. And I was so pleased to serve these to my husband, albeit a little prior to Valentine's Day.

I made little tart shells using my usual Never Fail Pie Pastry, but any favorite pie pastry for a 9 or 10-inch pie will work. Whenever I make this pie pastry, as it makes enough for 3 or 4 pies, I always freeze extra individual portions, so they are available whenever needed. I made these as individual tarts with a 4-inch base, but if making it in a larger, single 9 or 10-inch tart pan, you might want to use a different filling, as this one worked fine in small tarts, but would not hold to slice and serve a larger slice. 

I would have preferred to use a can of cherries in syrup, but this was not available, so instead I used a can of cherry pie filling and fished out the cherries. Looking back, this might have been for the best, as the cherries were very small, and looked much nicer on these small tarts than would larger cherries. I wanted to "glaze" the tart with strained cherry preserves with a little Kirsch, so once the cherries were in place it was drizzled over top. Once cooled, this glaze holds everything in place. And then of course, I put a pretty piped dollop of Mascarpone Whipped Cream to top it all off. 

I tried something I had never done before, when baking the tart shells. I truly hate blind baking shells, as they always shrink so much. I line the shells, fill them with beans or rice or what-have-you, and they still shrink. And they still bubble up once the foil is removed and the final baking is done. So, while watching "The Great British Baking Show," I noticed that they never trim a crust before baking. I gathered it was to prevent this kind of shrinkage, and then they trim the shell once it is finished baking. I tried this out. But, I do not believe it really prevented shrinkage. The pastry shrinks a bit, regardless of how it is placed in the pan, and if it can't shrink downwards, then the bottom shrinks upwards. This is what happened, and once I trimmed the baked shells, they all sat themselves well down, at least ⅛-inch. With little tarts, this is a significant amount. So, I am not sure it made any real difference at all.

Cherry Custard Tarts
Cherry Custard Tarts
Cherry Custard Tarts

Makes four (4-inch) tarts 

Pastry for one 9 - 10-inch pie

¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
pinch salt
1 cup whole milk
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons Kirsch (cherry liqueur), optional
1½ tablespoons unsalted butter in small cubes
2 ounces good quality white chocolate, chopped

1 can cherries in syrup, or cherry pie filling
1 jar cherry preserves
1 tablespoon Kirsch, optional

¼ cup whipping or heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners' sugar
2 ounces mascarpone (about ¼ cup)
1 teaspoon Kirsch, optional

Milk mixture - egg yolks - cooking milk mixture - boiling the mixture
Milk mixture - egg yolks - cooking milk mixture - boiling the mixture
MAKE CUSTARD: In a mixing bowl, combine the butter and white chocolate; set aside. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks; set aside, but keep nearby. In a medium saucepan, whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, all-purpose flour and salt. Whisk in the milk until smooth and set on the stove on medium heat. Whisking constantly, allow the mixture to come to a boil, about 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium low and continue whisking for 3 minutes more. Leave burner on and remove the pan from the burner. 

milk into egg - whisk and repeat - egg mixture into pan - whisk thoroughly
milk into egg - whisk and repeat - egg mixture into pan - whisk thoroughly
Off the heat, add a small ladle of the hot liquid into the whisked eggs, then whisk briskly to incorporate. Repeat this twice more, then pour all the egg mixture back into the hot saucepan. Whisk, then return to the burner, whisking for about 1 to 2 minutes. Do not allow the mixture to boil. Remove from the burner and immediately empty the saucepan into the bowl with the butter and white chocolate. Add the vanilla and Kirsch and stir, until the chocolate is completely melted. Cover the custard with a piece of plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface of the custard, to prevent a skin forming. Set aside to cool completely. If not using once cooled, refrigerate until needed.
white chocolate and butter in bowl - pour in hot mixture - add flavors - whisk and cover
white chocolate and butter in bowl - pour in hot mixture - add flavors - whisk and cover

MAKE TART SHELLS: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Divide the pastry into 4 equal pieces. Roll each into an 8 or 9-inch diameter circle. Fit gently into the tart pans, pressing into all the ridges and corners without stretching and leave the overhang in place. Cut four pieces of aluminum foil and gently press into the pastry, fitting into the corners. Fill with dried beans, or rice, or other pie weights. Set the tart shells onto a baking sheet with rim and bake them for 12 to 15 minutes, until the edges begin to turn golden. Remove from oven, leaving oven on. Remove the foil and beans (rice, weights) from each shell and prick the bottoms of each tart shell, then return to the oven for 6 to 8 minutes more, until the bottoms are also golden. Remove from oven. 
cut pastry circles - line tart pans - fit foil - add beans
cut pastry circles - line tart pans - fit foil - add beans and bake

As soon as the shells are cool enough, with a knife trim the edges flush with the top of the tart pans. Discard the trimmings. Allow the shells to cool completely. Once cooled, divide the cooled custard between each of the shells. 
Tart shells baked - filled with custard - cherries and preserves - mascarpone whipped cream
Tart shells baked - filled with custard - cherries and preserves - mascarpone whipped cream

TOPPINGS: If using cherry pie filling, remove at least 12 cherries for each of the tarts, placing the cherries all around the edges. In a small saucepan, heat about ½-cup of the cherry preserves with the tablespoon of Kirsch until just boiling. Strain the preserves through a strainer, pressing to extract as much as possible. Drizzle this heated mixture over the cherries at the edges of the tarts, then into the center, smoothing gently to cover evenly. Chill the tarts for at least an hour or two.

MASCARPONE WHIPPED CREAM: In a small mixing bowl, with a hand mixer, beat the whipping cream until just set. Add the confectioners' sugar and the mascarpone cheese and beat just until all incorporated, and the mixture holds shape. Place a dollop onto each tart before serving, or pipe on with a large star tip.

Remove the rims of the tart pans, then gently slide the tart off the base and onto a plate, to serve.

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, February 9, 2018

Sometimes a Great Thing Just Happens

Sometimes I sit and think, "What in the world am I going to make for dinner?" And sometimes I sit thinking like this all the day long and nothing at all to show for all that rigorous thinking.

But then sometimes, I just kind of flow with it and something great occurs. This happened yesterday. I looked in the freezer yesterday morning and my eyes wandered around a while, finally settling on ground lamb. I had nothing particular in mind, but it was a start.
Lamb & Mushroom Lasagna
Lamb & Mushroom Lasagna

Then I went grocery shopping, since the fridge was looking pretty bleak. Nothing green in sight and not much of anything fresh left. Okay, so while shopping, I looked at a pound box of mushrooms and just got a craving. Okay, so what do I do with mushrooms and ground lamb?

I kept those ingredients in the back of my mind, and as I often do, I Googled those two ingredients and there were all sorts of recipes out there, of course. I always say that there is no new combinations on the face of the earth. Someone, somewhere, has thought of a recipe. I have had times where I never looked up a single thing, made a dish I created in my own mind, and only later discovered that it was almost ingredient for ingredient in someone else's blog. ­čś▓

There were many different recipes for ground lamb and mushrooms, mixed with pasta of one kind or another, but I didn't want to use penne, or elbow, or any of those. And then I thought about lasagna. I am not the world's greatest lasagna maker. I am a really good cook, and often exceptional. But lasagna does not figure in the great successes. I guess I am a glutton for punishment, because somehow I keep trying. And my efforts are sometimes pitiful, sometimes good, but not great. Yet I keep trying. I figured I would give the pasta maker some use. I hadn't used it since last June when my husband and I started a diet. Mainly I was avoiding refined carbs. We eat lots of carbs: lentils, beans, whole grains, squash, etc, but very little of white flour. Except for the holidays; don't even want to think about all that!

Okay, so lasagna.

I'd just come home from the grocery shopping when I came up with this idea. I did not buy any mozzarella or ricotta. I wasn't going back out. It was about 4 degrees when I went shopping. More of that I didn't particularly want. And then I was thinking about the lasagna with short rib meat I made nearly a year ago when my daughter-in-law told me about a short rib lasagna she'd eaten. In that one I used a b├ęchamel with cheese melted in it, instead of the mozzarella and/or ricotta. I had other cheese in the fridge. I had some Fontina (which is not sold here where I live, but I'd happened to find some on one of our trips to Sioux Falls recently), and I did have things like Romano and Parmesan. In a pinch, Cheddar, though that wasn't the flavor I wanted. If you do not have access to Fontina, substitute Ementhal, Gruyere or Provolone.

in my mind, I began assembling ingredients, and writing down my recipe plan. Then I started assembling and cooking. I got the lamb and mushroom part finished, and then the b├ęchamel sauce. In the end I used the Fontina and Romano cheese in the bechamel. I used some "sweet" spices (cinnamon, allspice, cloves and even mastik - a new one!) in the lamb mixture. They were not readily apparent in the final dish, though it did have an intriguing flavor. Since I was using fresh rosemary and thyme, the use of mastik, which has a slightly pine-like flavor, seemed like it would pair well with the resinous flavor of rosemary. And all that remained was the pasta. I did use my pasta machine and made lasagna sheets. And yes I used white semolina flour - oh well. If you do not have a pasta machine, you will need 6-8 lasagna sheets (enough to cover the pan three times), pre-cooked.

Lamb and Mushroom Lasagna

Lamb & Mushroom Lasagna
Lamb & Mushroom Lasagna
Makes one 13 x 9-inch pan


1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
1 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced

2 - 3 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
¼ cup dry sherry or other dry white wine, optional

1 pound ground lamb (or substitute beef)
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon mastik gum, ground finely, optional

⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
1 can (14.5 ounces) tomato sauce

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground white pepper, optional
1 cup shredded Fontina Cheese 
1 cup shredded Romano cheese

6 - 8 lasagna sheets, pre-cooked

MUSHROOM MIXTURE: Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add in the olive oil, onions and the ½ teaspoon of salt. Toss well, then lower the heat to medium low and cook slowly for about 10 minutes, tossing occasionally. Add in the mushrooms and raise the heat to medium. Cook, tossing the mixture occasionally, until the mushrooms have released their liquid and begin to brown. Add in the fresh thyme leaves and the sherry. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated, then turn the mixture out into a bowl and set aside.
Making Lamb and Mushroom Mixture
Making Lamb and Mushroom Mixture

MEAT MIXTURE: To the same skillet, add the ground lamb and cook, breaking apart evenly. Add in the salt, garlic, rosemary and other spices. Toss well and cook for a couple of minutes before adding in the tomato sauce. Cook for a minute or so to meld the flavors. Return the mushroom mixture to the pan and mix well. Set aside, off the heat.
Making Bechamel Sauce
Making Bechamel Sauce

B├ëCHAMEL SAUCE: Heat a 4 to 6-quart saucepan over medium heat and add in the butter to melt. Once melted, add in the flour and mix well, stirring for about 3 minutes. Off the heat, whisk in the milk slowly, until the mixture is smooth. Return to the heat and add in the salt, nutmeg and white pepper and whisk constantly, scraping the pan evenly, until the mixture thickens. Once boiling, continue to whisk for another 3 minutes. Set aside about ¼ of the cheese mixture, then add the rest to the b├ęchamel and whisk until completely melted. Remove from heat and set aside.
Assembling layers then baked
Assembling layers then baked

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 13 x 9-inch oven proof casserole lightly with cooking spray. put a small amount of the meat mixture in the bottom of the casserole. Place two (or three if needed) lasagna sheets to cover the bottom, without overlapping. Spoon on ⅓ of the remaining meat mixture and spread it evenly over the noodles. Ladle on ⅓ of the b├ęchamel sauce. Top with another single layer of the lasagna sheets, another ⅓ of the meat mixture and another ⅓ of the b├ęchamel sauce. Repeat these layers once more, then sprinkle the top with the reserved cheese. Bake the casserole for about 45 to 50 minutes, until the mixture is bubbling. Allow to cool for about ½-hour before serving. This allows for neater slices.

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 February Newsletter

A Harmony of Flavors February 2018 Newsletter
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Happy Valentine's Day, Mardi Gras, King Cake
Happy Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day, Friend

Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday," is the last big splurge before Lent begins, for those who fast during Lent. Many celebrate Mardi Gras just because it signifies fun and revelry. This year Mardi Gras falls on February 13th, with the following day being Valentine's Day. Let the Good Times Roll, as they say in New Orleans.

I had the fortune to live not too far from New Orleans, though I never spent Mardi Gras down there. I was content to enjoy from afar. One of the wonderful foods served in Louisiana and many places where Mardi Gras is celebrated, is a King Cake. I created a King Cake of my own one year, though they are sold all over Louisiana. They are thought to have been started in France, celebrating the Epiphany, which officially begins the season of Mardi Gras, and culminates on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. A plastic baby, representing the baby Jesus, is often baked into the cake, and the person who finds the baby (or a bean, or a coin or other item to represent this honor) is officially the king (or queen) for the day and is officially responsible for the next party and the next King Cake.

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!
gumbo, bread puding, New Orleans food, Louisiana
gumbo, bread puding, New Orleans food, Louisiana
More Delicious Louisiana Food

Louisiana foods are so delightfully good. I found this out as we ate at many wonderful places during our two years in that state. Two of my absolute all-time favorites were Gumbo and Bread Pudding. It seems that with bread pudding, it is either love or hate. For me, bread pudding is the ultimate in comfort foods, and I tried it in every single restaurant. It is as ubiquitous on the menus in Louisiana as Gumbo, or Crawfish Etoufee. I have made all kinds of bread puddings. I sometimes add in white chocolate, sometimes dark chocolate. Sometimes I make it with French bread, sometimes with pound cake as in my Pound Cake Bread Pudding!

Gumbo was another dish I tried in every single restaurant I frequented, just to taste the amazing variations on the theme. I found that my preference was File Gumbo, meaning that it is slightly thickened and flavored with File Powder. Read more about File Powder in my blog. The other form of gumbo is okra gumbo, meaning okra is used as a slight thickening agent instead of File powder. And, you will find that there are firm camps on both sides of this line.

My Hamburger & Andouille Gumbo recipe, shown above, was made on a whim one day, when all I had out was hamburger meat. This is not the norm for gumbo, which generally has things like chicken, and/or shrimp or crawfish. The flavors were all there, though, and that is what matters most. So, give this one a try. And, if you love Bread Pudding, try my recipe shown above, because it is as good as it gets, truly!

Below is a button to connect with a really great Bonus Recipe for this month, a more traditional Gumbo.
CLICK HERE for a Bonus Recipe
Mardi Gras, Valentine's Day, celebrations
And for Valentine's Day . . .

If you'd like to present your beloved with a fine example of all that is decadent and indulgent for Valentine's Day, do try making my Flourless Chocolate Torte with Strawberry Buttercream. It is a cake to die for, and extremely rich and dense. Here's hoping you have millions of things to be grateful for on these days and all the month!
Mardi Gras, Valentine's Day, celebrations
paella, Pot Stickers, Chicken Paprikash, Lamb Korma
How About a Wonderful Breakfast?

Breakfast has to be one of my favorite meals of the day, hands down. No matter what wonderful thing I eat during the day, breakfast just takes the cake, so to speak. I love eggs, whether poached, fried, scrambled or in omelet form. I love bacon and ham (I am not a fan of sausage at any meal; sorry, sausage lovers). I love scones, bread of every description, pancakes, French toast, biscuits, muffins - did I leave anything out? I love black beans at any meal, but they really shine, next to eggs. If you are a breakfast lover, and want to serve something special on any morning, but especially on Valentine's Day, do take a look at some of these breakfast items.

Clockwise from top left:
Blackberry Compote over pancakes. This Blackberry Compote is good enough to eat with a spoon, but over pancakes? It takes them to a whole new level. In this photo I served the compote over Buckwheat Millet Pancakes (Gluten Free, Dairy Free, Vegan). Whether you make your own pancakes from scratch or from a box mix or from the freezer section, the compote will stand out, and it is simplicity itself to make.

Rosemary Parmesan Biscuits. I love biscuits, and whether they are a little bit sweet or a little bit savory, it makes no difference. These are just a little bit savory, and while they are a delight on their own, or alongside dinner, they also make a statement next to eggs. Try them as the base for Eggs Benedict!

Hatch Ancho Chili Sauce. I made this Hatch Chili Sauce in an effort to copy the flavors in a sauce I had in a restaurant out west. It may not be identical, but it is close enough, and gave me the right southwest flavors for this breakfast. Make some basted eggs, set them atop warmed corn tortillas, top with some of this Hatch Ancho Chili Sauce and serve some Black Beans alongside. To really take this already amazing breakfast to even higher levels, serve a little sour cream over top and add a few olives. Mmm-mmm.

Cran-Raspberry White Chocolate Scones. I love making scones. It takes so little time, and the results are so delicious. In this case, they are a little bit sweet, and decadent enough all alone. They need nothing at all to taste better, though a little butter is not at all unacceptable. But set them next to eggs and oh my!
Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Valentine's Day
coffee, coffee drinks, Cafe Brulot, New Orleansrecipe,
And, One More Tribute to New Orleans
If you have never had the fortune to try Cafe Brulot, I hope to give some incentive to make it yourself. Granted, it is a bit of a production, and not your quick cup of coffee, but oh great heavens, it is so very delicious!

I tried this wonderful coffee for the first time at a small cooking class, and it certainly caught my attention. I love coffee, and I love coffee drinks, though I rarely indulge in them, these days. Making Cafe Brulot requires at least a couple types of liqueurs as well as orange and lemon peels, cloves and cinnamon and sugar. And coffee, of course. The spices, peels and sugar are set to soak, then the liqueurs are ignited and allowed to flame until nearly out. Hot coffee is added and the mixture is strained into coffee cups, and garnished with a twist of lemon or orange rind.

Later on I had the pleasure of drinking Cafe Brulot in Antoine's, after a most excellent meal back in 2001. Sigh . . . Do give this a try!
star anise, Illicium verum, star anise pods
Have You Met Star Anise?
Star Anise ( Illicium verum ) is a medium sized evergreen shrub native to northeast Vietnam and southwest China. The star-shaped pods (or pericarps) give the fruit its name of "star anise," for obvious reasons. The flavor is very close to regular anise seed, though there is no relation between the two, belonging to two completely separate families.

Star anise is one of the flavor ingredients in many well known liqueurs, such as Galliano or Sambuca, but it is also used in Indian cooking all over the Indian subcontinent, it is a component of Chinese Five Spice Powder and is a major ingredient in the Vietnamese noodle soup, Pho. Use a pod or two in your next pot of stock.

Star Anise has a great affinity for meats, in particular beef and chicken, in my experience. It can be used as a component in tea mixtures, such as Thai Iced Tea, which is generally made up of black tea leaves, star anise, tamarind, cardamom, cloves. For a simpler version, just float a star anise pod in your next cup of tea. The pods can be used repeatedly for this type of application.

Star anise has a slightly more bitter flavor than regular anise, with a more licorice-like taste, but if you have star anise on hand and lack regular anise, star anise can be used as a substitute at a ratio of about one powdered star anise pod to equal 1/2 teaspoon regular anise seed.

And if nothing else, these pods are just the prettiest things, ever. Use them in potpourris or just display them in a bowl or decorative jar.

author, Chris Rawstern
Happy Mardi Gras and Valentine's Day 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.
Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Valentine's Day
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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